The big fat Italian guys with the Chinese characters tattooed onto their man titties
sit in the steam room with me and say Jimmie
and Hey Jimmie
and Jimmie Jimmie.
I think it’s a Tourettes convention but really, I’m tiny
next to them, the water off the walls,
the sweat off the shoulders. It’s naked Mexico City in July
but where’s the ocean? I swear they are Don this and Capo de tutti that.
The one with the twelve foot neck
would cut me in half with the switch blade he’s got hidden up his ass
if he knew I snuck a peek at his tiny steroid frozen penis.
This guy is built like an eighteen wheeler
stuffed with cut up cow,
and it’s hot in here–
fra diavlo hot.
Please, my eyelids whisper, I’ve got nothing against cannolis
I just have to get home to my wife and kid, tuck them in,
read some poetry books on Descartes.
I said, It’s hot.
And that’s when we all start to cry, me, Jimmie and his Jimmie,
the three of us like there are violins falling off our cheeks
into puddles of sweat that pool around our feet.
It’s a man’s cry,
one that goes on into the wet air and makes no sense
until one says to the other, Whadya want?
And the other says, It hurts.
And I say, Goodbye
as if we are all talking about the same thing
but no one knows what the hell that is
and the steam makes us grab hands
and there we are–
a single pink orchid
in the bowels of the Suburban YMCA
somewhere off the eastern side of The Massachusetts Turnpike
saving the goddamned and broken world.
THE BEAUTY OF MEN
Men suffer through the gray hairs of their wives
then go out and skateboard down Mass. Ave.
in the middle of winter
to finish the day.
They waltz into delicatessens and order pastrami sandwiches
then suffer through irregular heartbeats
that make them wish they were marigolds.
My father suffered through a childhood in Brighton Beach
then moved to Manhattan
and wished he was Chagall.
I can’t imagine what Chagall suffered through.
His eyes were wine colored vacuum cleaners
that sucked up the world.
There is nothing like a woman flying over a temple
in fifteen shades of orange
to make all the pain disappear.
There is nothing like a slow waltz
to alleviate the numb ache that starts in the neck and ends
in the knee.
For many years men have suffered in plates of salt called war
and come home with nothing but death.
They retreat to bars and suffer in whiskey
before they can get to the garden
and pick their tomatoes.
In the afternoon an autumn wind made a man suffer
through the orange-amber of falling leaves.
His son had left him for a world with no phones, television or tears.
If a man’s suffering is a truck stop in Texas
he might eventually disappear into the dust
and feel lucky.
I disappeared once, into the ice and snow of upstate New York
in a cocaine induced starry sky haze
that had no palms
to catch me when I fell.
I was lucky.
I laid my head down on a bush of pine
and died into my next life. I was alone, petrified, frozen to the field.
When I woke there was the suffering of geese and the train whistle by the lake.
The men I knew came out of their homes and picked me up.
They suffered through the burn of frost and the wild dogs that ran the streets.
They warmed me with their mittens and their breath.
The moon wanted to help
but my eyelids were frozen closed
so I could not see the trees.
It did not matter: I saw the suffering of my father
and his father
and the father of earth that was always alone.
And I thought: this is how I am reborn
out of my death,
into the hands of men
who have walked from their homes
to unfreeze my skin. Their suffering was nothing
I could imagine
and so I opened my eyes to see birds
where there were only clouds
and the beginning of snow. This was the suffering of the sky.
It was full of light. It was an envelope
WHEN THE WORLD RUNS OUT OF EARTH
My daughter teaches me everyday
that I am an asshole.
I’m a guy who throws blue paint on the ceiling
when I am supposed to throw red.
I’m the father who opens the Ziploc bag
with the Cape Cod chips
when I’m supposed to let her
unzip the lock.
I like school, she says,
at least there I’ve got privacy.
I’ve got privacy in the hallway at the Post Office
between one mailbox and the half drunk
Every day I take out the trash.
My daughter’s dolls are shoved between the watermelon rinds,
the pizza box.
I didn’t mean to put them there;
that’s why I am an asshole.
I was an asshole to Karen Zubrowski, at fifteen.
I said, Girl, your nose is a fire hydrant
the dogs pee on.
She did not slap me in the face
but I knew the earth would never be the same.
That’s what I knew last night
when my daughter said, Get out of my room,
What was I supposed to do then?
So, I went into the bathroom and shaved my face.
I put on lipstick and eyeliner,
one of my wife’s dresses, pink heels.
You like me now, I screamed,
but all she could do was laugh
and run around the house with her friend Emma,
between one castle of silk and another princess of gardenia.
My assholeness was large and every room I visited
There were nuclear bomb facilities everywhere
and when the world runs out of earth,
what kinds of cars will we drive?
It upsets my daughter to think about these things.
It upsets her when my wife and I talk about thunderous rain clouds.
That’s why I had to take off the dress, the lipstick, the eye paint.
That’s why I have to call myself an asshole
every minute of my life
so I can save my daughter
from considering every worst possible thing,
Five guys at Home Depot told me to find the clamp I needed
until I asked Juan
and he took me to Hardware
and I found what I was looking for,
for Juan, really,
to say, Hombre, you saved the day,
which was a lie,
I would have made due
with a vice grip.
One guy I asked, Manny, said, We don’t carry clamps.
I said, You idiot.
It’s not like I needed Saturn,
but if I did, to weld some copper pipe,
I could have found it in Tools.
Manny was a nice guy
and I felt bad for the sonofabitch,
standing all day, at eighty.
I know he was a diamond guy back in the 50s but, what,
too many trips to Hawaii with Glenda?
Too many investments that went to pot?
You can stand all day in front of a woman
and tell her you love her
but if you don’t hold out your hand,
the nail has already been hammered into the 2×4,
the propane grill in Gardening
has already been fired up to high.
The clamp, you see, is for a vinyl tube
that will take the bloody water from the birth pool and siphon it into the earth
outside our dining room window
after my wife has pushed that baby inside of her
For a second, today, I wanted to invite Juan over
to watch the whole thing
as a gift for taking me to my clamp
Set him up in a nice beach chair,
glass of beer, some hot Italian sausage,
and a big red, neon sign that flashes over the newborn,
as if he were right at home,
between aisle 6 and aisle 12,
waiting to help the next idiot, like myself,
find a flat-head screwdriver
to suck out the screw.
Matthew Lippman’s new book, The Monkey Bars, will be published by Typecast Press in 2010. His first book, The New Year of Yellow, is published by Sarabande Books. He lives in the Boston area with his family.