JAMES TYLER - POEMS
Broken and On the Mend
Is the most important line the first
or is it the last?
Just as the first breath is most important
because we can’t begin without,
but the last breath most profound
because that’s how we’re remembered,
words broken forever for others to mend.
One of my first memories is knocking
my grandmother’s grandmother’s
vase off the little table while playing GI Joe.
It shattered into 601 pieces, rose and white,
the last day we saw that vase in one piece,
last time I looked at a vase the same way
because the tears breaking from eyes.
The first time I heard the Grateful Dead broke my ears--
no acid, but psychedelics to the brain
through drumbeat, lyric, and guitar solos.
Grandma said, “shut that shit off,”
the first time I ever heard her say shit.
So I went to the basement and turned it loud
so even the demons could hear and dance.
The first time I ever kissed a girl was in the bushes
amongst the broken branches and brown leaves.
Our tongues touched, shock of slippery delight.
God, my ears buzzed, but I heard grandma calling
“Jamie, where are you?” Can you get AIDS from the
spit of a girl in the fourth grade?
I was neither here nor there, grandma.
Now let’s talk about a middle time, not late in life,
but there. How about when my father was dying
on a bed in grandma’s house, biting pill after pill
to go insane with a chill so close to death it was soft
and hard like steel or iron, coursing in veins through the brain,
smell of rose and petunia in a constant hallucination,
grandma last to touch your hand that night, that last night.
On the mend with all the dandruff and pimples a boy
can hold. Wanting to kiss all the girls, slippery--
call me four-eyes and get over it. I can’t shoot a ball,
but I can kill a butterfly and mount it with a pin,
monarchs always in the middle. Death is real and beautiful
like learning to ride a bicycle for the first time
or like a broken coke bottle in the shine of a campfire.
Were you there when they nailed him to the cross?
Is there a sight of blood that remains thus unseen?
Tell me the sorrows and the glories you’ve witnessed.
The song of nail to the wood, sun broken sound,
reach high, two arms upon the sky and lord bow down
a small song of glory touches all around,
and touch me now sweet Jesus for I am found.
The last time I saw my grandmother a machine made
her breathe because her soul was breaking away.
Grandpa kissed her on the forehead, once alive and once dead.
I never heard her last words, but I could make up a lie.
I said, “Where are you grandma?” and touched her hand.
Her eyes opened one final time, smile biting tubes
like a she-wolf and middle finger high, high as a kite.
A Meeting, By Chance
I met her somewhere near Coeur d’Alene or Pocatello
on my way to somewhere like Helena or Bozeman.
You don’t forget women like her, just the towns.
Her hair was as yellow as the sunshine and her lips red like cherries.
You gotta describe her in clichés. It’s the only way to justify her.
But her brown eyes had something sinister in them that I liked.
So I bought her a beer with my last five dollar bill.
She had no idea the sacrifice. I couldn’t even buy a sandwich,
though my hunger was assuaged when she put the longneck to her lips.
We talked of the good times and bad times, actually shared some memories.
Her eyes changed from sinister to soft, even a little bit heavenly,
but guys like me aren’t bound for heaven. It’s the lower levels where we dwell.
I know you may be expecting a conquest of sorts, a star crossed connection.
But I hate to be the barer of bad news. That night she danced with a dude
with a mullet instead of me. Nothing wrong with a mullet. Just the wrong guy.
I think of her when I eat pine nuts. That’s what they had at the bar.
I don’t think she was wearing perfume. At least I don’t remember a scent
except for the dirty rag the bartender wiped the bar top with.
Please don’t think I’m writing a sad song. I don’t like sad songs anyways.
Think of this as a chance meeting, nothing set at the beginning of the universe,
but I’d like to think that it was a passing thought of God, just real quick.
And something else about it. You know how true love might exist?
Well, I love her still today. It’s just a bug in the back of my brain.
Tomorrow I might think about her, but tonight I’ll stop.
I Am a Legend
I am sick of making legends.
Give me a cure in a bottle
and I will only tell true tales.
Lies are a sweet Valentine rose.
Put your nose in the petals
until it’s sour, red turned to black.
I have two true arms to hold lies
that are heavy as a body in a bag,
that are heavy as bubbles in a bath.
One legend says love never dies,
but what is this stink?
Kisses that decompose in the nose.
Is the poet more important than the poem--
a poet whose breath smells of beer and onions,
whose poems can break butter diamonds in two?
Legends make the eyes water, the breath go quick.
Legends taste like strawberries or salt.
Legends look like a waterfall or a drop of rain.
Marlowe leans in to tell me a secret.
What a great name for a cat. Or writer.
I introduce myself as none other than Shakespeare.
And for a moment I am a legend.
My quill races across the page, a cheetah
chasing his prey after days of starvation.
But I find my place in history to be precarious.
Certainly my legend will be forgotten
and placed upon the heap of broken pencils.
I wasn’t there, not until 1979--
an unborn child inside a child.
My mother was four years old
sitting at a long dining room table,
upon which my grandmother was born
and meals were fed to boarders in upstairs rooms,
where bold lies and gentle prayers carried
up to the chandelier or spilled out and down
the hall, where shadows hid for decades.
The talk was probably about Truman
or the Korean War. Maybe football.
All I know for sure about that day was
my mother didn’t want turkey. Pouting face.
She let it be known to the whole family,
the women who’d prepared the meal for days.
She recalls the smile on her grandfather’s face
when she announced she’d like a peanut butter
and jelly sandwich, a story told over and over
since that Thanksgiving Day. He laughed
amid gasps and a couple “I declares.”
“Yes, ma’am,” was all he said, standing
without hesitation, on his way to the kitchen,
solidifying his place as my mother’s hero.
He looks like a proud man in one old photo.
I hope this story never dies, is never buried
under countless calendars, burned by sunny days
or ruined by rain, bringing a smile at least once a year.
Our Dirty Mason Jars
I keep my days in a dirty Mason jar
floating in formaldehyde mixed with backaches,
stomachaches, headaches, and heartbreaks.
I’ve wonder about the man holding his jar out
and the first time he asks a stranger for change.
He keeps his jar half full of pennies, half of regrets.
That man and I have spilled our pride out in the street
and on the sidewalks for the unassuming to slip upon.
There should be a warning sign painted with our blood.
I’ll open my jar to accept your frown or an ancient smile
you have long forgotten. Sing some of your happy birthdays--
especially the lonely ones where you ate all the cake.
My jar doesn’t make a jingle. The days I’ve collected inside
are soft marshmallows, once afraid of the rain
and what would happen next, but now content to dream.
I’ll save up a penny to put in that man’s jar. Maybe two.
His dreams smell of iron and cigarettes, cheap beer
and his ex-wife’s perfume. His pockets are heavy, too,
with hands always searching for broken promises
and keys that have no home. Both of us need a compass
to give direction. I’ll head north one of these days
and he’ll go south, perhaps all the way to Miami,
with our jars as companions. The worst thing
would be to drop the jar. Past, present, future broken.