An Incomplete List of Unconvincing Reasons Offered to Me

the world is complex and

flowers are beautiful and

the body is self-regulating and

my football team won and

Hitler lost and

I found the love of my life and

a person I know beat cancer and

science keeps changing and

my grandma believed and

this toast has a face and

I want to see my dad in heaven and

what if you’re wrong and

this book on near-death experiences and

God’s Not Dead and

beer and

hurricanes punishing the gays and

the Bible says it’s so and

the end is near and

speaking in tongues and

you can’t be moral otherwise and

4,000 years ago this happened and

have fun in hell and

Christians enjoy sex more and

you will be rewarded tenfold and

there’s a reason for everything and

read this tract and

pray about it and

you were raised better and

Darwin converted and

you don’t need proof because

all you have to do is believe

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1999 Called…

A letter arrived for me at my parents’ home recently. The return address was my first college, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and there was a note on the envelope saying, “To be mailed on 1/1/2010.” (Obviously, someone was a little late.)

Inside was a card, in my handwriting, dated 12/8/99. I have no memory of writing what follows, but it apparently was part of my College Writing course my first semester of school. I was 18. The handwriting and sense of humor are unmistakably mine.

Dear Andrew:

Here I am on the (supposed) dawn of a new millennium, sitting in an 8 o’clock college writing class writing you a letter. I don’t know who, where, or how you are, but I hope all is well. If you’re not, what happened?

I hope you’re married by now. Really. You’re 28 years old. There’s no reason to be single at that age. If you are, propose to the next woman who walks by. If you have married, go home and make love to your wife immediately. (Do it for me.)

Right now, I’m a bit confused about life. Women are the cause of so many problems. What happened after I wrote this? Did Gwen and I patch things up? Did I send my picture to the mysterious woman from the Internet?

1999 was the year of great movies and great fun. I went to the beach with Gwen. Richie made homemade wine. Eyes Wide Shut, Fight Club, and American Beauty came out. So did Rage Against the Machine’s Battle of Los Angeles. It was a great year for entertainment.

Anyway, that’s about all they can be said. Hopefully, you have a job to do after you make love to your wife. Have fun.

Yours,
Andrew

It’s amazing what seems important at that age. One sentence about work? I spend 35 hours a week teaching, and it gets the same amount of ink as a Rage Against the Machine album? Why wasn’t I curious about my job?

I was obsessed with relationships in those days. Not that I was very good with them. No, Gwen and I did not patch things up. (I hope she’s well, though. She was lovely.) And don’t ask me about this woman from the Internet. I’ve been thinking about her, and the best I can recall is exchanging pictures with someone I met in a chat room, though I guess neither of us found the other attractive, as we never met. Either way, I drop some startling sexism in there. Sorry about that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to make love to my wife. Immediately.

IMG_0166

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Dedicated to a Friend

what’s one more
fire to put out
ball to juggle
bullet to dodge
mountain to climb
burden to bear?

she can handle another
punch to the gut
slap in the face
kick to the head
yank of the hair
poke in the eye.

you can’t
hold her down
break her spirit
sap her strength
stop her momentum
kill her dreams.

tomorrow she’ll
give you a smile
give fate the finger
give her daughter a kiss
give her son a hug
give herself a break.

no more
shoes dropping
lightning crashing
ships sinking
hearts pounding
tears flowing.

just
peace
joy
space
warmth
hope.

that’s right
hope
she can hope

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Gunshot, 7:34 PM

Yuppies dominate this neighborhood

driving Audis and Mercedes
past the country club
whose initiation fee is
thirty thousand dollars

ferrying kids to riding lessons
and lacrosse practice
or that exclusive school
tucked in among the horse farms

returning home for
a Whole Foods dinner
complemented by
the appropriate wine

gas fireplaces warming
purebred teacup dogs
grown fat from food
made of duck and brown rice

and yet
a sound from my youth

evoking bright orange and dark red
post-Thanksgiving dawns
stomping through the forest
antlers mounted in kitchens

a crack and its echo
barely worth notice
in that time and place
registers differently here

I note the time
preparing my story for
the eventual trial
and true crime cash-in book

as women in yoga pants
and men in pressed khakis
consider how much money
they spent to avoid this moment.

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A Reasonable Request

Napoleon told Josephine
in a letter that
he was coming
home and she
should stop bathing
In anticipation. His
nose carried the fumes
of gunpowder and corpses,
of horses and latrines
and scream-filled field hospitals.
To bury his face in the
soft fur of her armpits
and inhale two weeks of life
then do the same
between her legs
would cleanse the palette and
welcome him home,
an emperor
fatigued by conquest
yet never satisfied.

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Why Former Students Smile When They See Me

Now and then
I run into
a former student
working as a barista
or in the lobby of a theater
and they come running over
all smiles
to ask me
if I remember them
and I do
and we chat
about high school
or college
and I ask then
what they remember
from the 180 hours
we spent together
and they usually
repeat some joke I made
or mention an annoying classmate
which makes me wonder
what my life has amounted to
like am I nothing but a
well-paid lifeguard
who sits on his stool
as teenagers horse around
blowing a whistle
to prevent horseplay
and ensure that
the pool doesn’t get sued
and I try to tell them
about CPR and water safety
but despite my efforts
no one is learning much
though they laugh a lot
and leave happy
with knowledge trailing behind
like wet footprints that
disappear
before my shift even ends
and now years later
it all blurs together
as one long hot day
when they were carefree
never thinking about
the future
where they’d be the ones
in the red swim trunks
counting the hours
until sunset.

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Smile

Her shirt said No Code
a secret message I received
and internalized
as though liking the same
unpopular album
bound us together.

She may have noticed
my awkward crush
(or maybe she didn’t)
when we shared a seat
on the marching band bus
driving home from Belle Vernon,
streetlights washing over her face
and retreating like the tide,
me all clammy-palm stutters.

She had eyes like a Precious Moments doll
a mouth like a merchant marine
and when she wore her black tank top
there were freckles on her chest
that I tried not to be noticed noticing
but I needn’t have worried because
she didn’t much notice me at all.

I put No Code on tonight
and remembered how she quoted it
when she signed my yearbook
at my graduation party
and I wondered why
it once seemed that
a great record threw enough warmth
to incubate a shared future
for two people who knew
nothing else about each other.

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