A Coin-Operated Pickax
I continued standing beneath the same tree
and I admit it. We all kept grinding
our respective pestles into the assigned
mortars, despite the lack of intrinsic beauty.
I willed the ends of my hair into a firecracker.
It was an empty firecracker that only had
light, and no sound. The tree was oblivious.
Nobody ever thought of chopping it,
and what a pity, but it never caused a stir.
I was three years old and standing on a table
in a fish market, kissing old men on the cheek.
My mother told this story every day,
recalled the special on whatever washed in.
The man at the counter said it with an accent
and it was so revolting that we purchased
the entire lot. They say guts are the best way
to a less anemic garden. I had what you might
call the exact opposite of reservations.
A Coin-Operated How Do You Like Me Now
My blood really wasn’t that bad, after all. I rocked
all of the wrong boats, left paper money in fountains
instead of coins. My dog was so beautiful, mistaken
for a more comely sister. I put coats on all the trees
in the nursery, before they fired me. They blamed it
on my imperial attitude. My family was in the vending
dynasty. Our house was made of retired butter knives.
And in every teen magazine circa 1992, the back
of my head, supernova of curls hurricaned by elite
fan placement and a protein made from dried veal.
A network of scaffolding worn close to the scalp.
Not like the shredded ham of a kerchief my neighbor
bolted onto her rollers, but transparent chainmail.
A beehive without the bees or the buzz, invisible
honey. We had a photo shoot in Guam, and kids
snuck their sugar tablets into my collar, bargained
for my Canadian quarters. Nobody ever knew
I was an American, and I did not set them straight.
Hysteria wrapped in the hyperbolic cord
of the courtesy phone. She was trying to turn
herself into a pile of dead birds, or something.
On the other line, static masked words
such as pinnacle and vernacular. They all
sounded perverse in their own indentured way.
She said let’s go light some yarn on fire, or
let’s go back to Canada, where the tunnels are so
timeless. There’s a pool where you can sink
more than your body to the bottom of the deep.
He learned all these directives from football,
or mother being a veterinarian, his father old
with a tongue that resembled cheesecloth.
He thought he was the only one who noticed
when the waiters frisked the silverware. She
was on a vinyl sofa in a vestibule, or disappeared
into the headlock of an antique telephone.
Every blue screen in sight said press any key.
A Coin-Operated Diary
Tuesday, and the anesthesia has all but worn off.
My plumage still intact. My inner workings still
working, or at least issuing an appropriate whir.
Nobody had painted anything on the dumpster.
I once had the idea to design a dress from curtains
but couldn’t tolerate the geometric catastrophe.
And now I am home, making money. Shoplifting
my own belongings, then returning them to myself.
They dispense an elixir for that, and it’s thick,
grape or mojito. I invented it, then sold the patent.
Even the most deceptive faux leather can’t breathe
with a person inside. I am appropriately terrified
of my god. He can’t ever leave me. I attempt to
explain this to every passerby who contemplates
lifting the lid of the dumpster. Don’t do it, brother.
There’s a riding mower that never gets close enough.
Any fringe is pure effrontery. It will split the temple.
Crush the steel barrel filled with partial disclosures.
My god would never consider a faux leather mantle,
or conceal all of his business beneath a copper lock.
Mary Biddinger is the author of three collections of poetry: Prairie Fever (Steel Toe Books, 2007), Saint Monica (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), and O Holy Insurgency (Black Lawrence Press, forthcoming September 2012), and co-editor of one volume of criticism: The Monkey and the Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics (U Akron Press, 2011). Her poems appear in numerous magazines, including Barrelhouse, Blackbird, diode, Forklift, Ohio, iO, Minnesota Review, Toad, Waccamaw, and South Dakota Review. She teaches literature and creative writing at The University of Akron, where she directs the NEOMFA program. She also edits Barn Owl Review, the Akron Series in Poetry, and the Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics.