November’s Poet: Maggie Munoz ’16

THE POET

I write with the intention of balancing both honesty and creativity. Poetry is my outlet for the people and images that are burned into my memory so clearly, that I am compelled to put them into words. Each individual poem is simply a snapshot of an attempt to reconcile  with both the people and memories that haunt and excite me. There are certain people and images that I can’t let go of that keep finding their way into my poems over and over again, whether I make the conscious choice to include them or not.

THE POETRY

CS 59

Fried bird lies on the counter

next to a half eaten kiss and a frosted box of pizza.

The soup pot is drowning in muddy water

and there is a film of cheap champagne,

slowly boiling on the front eye.

There is a quick rap tap tap on the front door

but no one stirs from a drunken stupor.

Her dress is crinkled with blood and dirt,

drifting above her waist under stolen

double stacked men’s blazers.

She raps on the door again and again

until neon clad officers hover on the stoop

asking her question after question.

They finally let her in, stumbling

past Bean boots and Sperrys as she stutters,

“The president is BAN-NACK O-BAM-MA…”

she is missing one shoe like Cinderella,

blood gushing from her knees, as she sits

bare butt on the counter waiting for her cheese fries.

The timer begins to sing as she lunges,

her uncovered hand disappearing into the dark oven.

She balances a ketchup bottle on a mug of water

and reaches the foot of the stairs where she perches

to gather the courage to begin climbing.

She dives face first into her pillow, bits of fries

tucked snuggly into the duvet, and falls

into a deep sleep it takes days to awaken her from.

Beauty Marks

Rainbows and purple unicorns
were plastered on the technicolor walls,
and the red plastic slide was calling my name.
I ran, my chubby legs rubbing together,
racing to be the first at its ladder.
There was a flash in time as my heel caught
the smooth center of a red and black poker chip, sending my feet flying higher than my tiny face. The unforgiving metal was cold on my lips
as my skin grazed the rim of the blackboard. Warmth filled to the brim of my bloody mouth with the taste of pennies and old chalk.
The kids around me howled as blood flooded
the puzzle piece carpet, drowning the mermaids dancing in the seersucker blue of my ruffle dress. Minutes passed as I lay there,
but I was alone
with a gash so deep that it would never leave me.

Northam Windows

A glimmer from the Christmas lights

   on the balmy leaves in his window signaled

      he was up waiting. It was my gauge.

He wallowed in seasonal depression,

   refusing to abandon his cave with red candle wax,

      racing down whiskey bottles and gray brick.

His neon green fridge held Brie and peach yogurt,

   the kind everyone always tossed away.

      The dinosaur duvet he bought to keep me

from snowfall and open windows,

   lay at the foot of his twin bed.

      It was as if he was waiting for me to slip under

green and purple dinosaurs and solve all of his problems.

   I would trudge by day after day trying to avoid the magnetism

      of the shimmer on the adjoining brick,

I never really could.

It still sends little shocks through my spine, begging me

   to run up three flights of stairs to its cave

      and dance under the dim shadows in his fireplace.

It begs to be noticed.

On the Yellow Brick Road

Therapy and horse tranquilizers

numbed her from the fame

and misfortune. She loathed pictures

taken by adoring fans and agents.

She was trapped in cycle after cycle

of pills and pep, pills and pep.

Panting was all she could muster up,

while hurling herself onto the stage.

She was stuck, staggering back and forth

from dressing rooms and stages,

leaving everything she stood for the moment

she signed on the dotted lines.

Her charisma was simply a mask

sewn to a broken marionette

that singing and smiles could not patch

after years of drugged isolation.

She left five husbands, three children,

and adolescent stardom that night

on her bathroom floor in Belgravia.

Her daughter was Liza, arguably

a bigger star than she ever was

or ever wanted to be.  She was too shy

for that even with the liquid courage

MGM constantly drowned her in.

The gashes on her wrists were ironic, really,

she was just giving them the blood

they so outrageously demanded of her.

Poetry by: Angela Pitsoulakis ’16

The Green Comb

My mother sets me free.

When I run in Greek air or when I try on my big sister’s clothes

She smiles a black and white smile.

But now she is behind my back

Untangling the knots that transform lines

Into curves and question marks.

“Sit up straight.” My mouth stays shut.

Straight teeth bite into patches of matted hair.

I yelp and shriek as my mom robs me of my knots.

They are mine! I made them!

Badges and ribbons for my hard play,

Surprise trophies handed to me through my adventures.

I crawl between static branches in blanket tunnels.

As I tumbled away from clawed pillow case hands,

My hair lumps together like a tight hug.

I make bike tires buzz and the wind snatches my hair back like a bad friend

Mother nature tied these knots yesterday,

They want to grow with me.

My birth mother chops through laced hair

And I feel myself getting smaller.

But at the end

Of my tears and thoughts

About how much dirt tumbles through wired hair

I know I’ll get a bow.

Poetry by: Kylee Mattox ’18

“Cedar Lane”

It’s that moment that you and I talk about

Where you feel, whilst you are in the present,

That this very moment is a pure one, an eternal space.

These moments happen often, could be a different time, a different place,

With a different person, a different you, but it is always the same feeling.

I promise.

It is Cedar Lane after your best friend has walked away from you

Without knowing that this would be the last time.

It is sad now, but it was beautiful then.

Someone could’ve told me right there,

The last thing I’d ever want to hear,

And I would have made it the best thing I had yet to hear, so far.

I condense these moments, (though they don’t deserve it)

Spread ‘cross time and place and space, into one melody

That plays continuously in my memory: “Cedar Lane.”

It sings me to sleep, hushes my cries, and picks me up in

Moments of realization that appear to me, too late.

It is the thick of my cheek forcing the crows feet out of my eyes when

I realize that life is so much more than we expected.

It is fall, and dried leaves, and warm colors,

And the space between the daring summers

And the winters of regret.

It is the reason that somewhere,

Between the tragedy, between the high,

I can move on, I can forgive, I can forget.

I promise.

I see you on Cedar Lane,

Treading yellow lines ahead of me.

You look over your shoulder,

to make sure I’m still watching,

before you vanish into the gold

of a November dusk.

“The Break”

I can hear you.

And as if the right words could save us,

You winced as each syllable left your lips.

You waited for my reaction,

But I, with wet eyes

Bowed my head down and

Tilted to the side,

Jaw tensed, nose pinched,

For your voice held an uncertainty

My ears could not bear.

You exhale.

Some things can’t be saved.

“Open Eyes”

When you ask me to sing

I say, “Please, close your eyes.”

You chuckle, turn your back

So as to not laugh,

‘cause this is ridiculous,

but you close them anyway.

As you listen,

Your jaw relaxes toward your chest

And I watch your eyes move around

Under your eyelids, back and forth,

Side to side.

It’s cute,

What you look like when you listen to me,

As if this were it, the voice

You heard in your dream

That you hadn’t been able to place.

The voice that made you wonder

About the memories you swore

To yourself you’d forgotten,

And brought them back into the light.

Okay.

Now, open your eyes.

A Shared Scar

She could have gotten away with a just sending a card. Instead, Jennifer’s on a bus to Phoenix – and she’ll do anything to get there.

The bus stank; it stank like old muddy tennis shoes, old muddy tennis shoes with goose feces ingrained into the crevices of the soles that have been sitting in the bottom of a closet for a year, ruminating in their own filth. Even worse, the stench seemed omnipresent. It wafted out of everything: the cracking, fake­leather seats, the mysteriously stained linoleum floor, and the gaping mouths of fellow passengers. The bus was hot, too, which made the odor thicker and more oppressive. It stuck to Jennifer’s floral sundress like a layer of oozing molasses. She wrinkled her freckled nose and grimaced, staring out the window at the cacti whizzing by. The man next to her was sweating profusely, mostly from the rolls of fat barely contained beneath his untucked white buttondown. Jennifer resented him. His glistening double chin, his fraying navy slacks, his weak, greasy comb­over; he had sat next to her on the plane, too.

What had she done to deserve this? Was this fetid bus some sort of karma purgatory? She wasn’t a bad person. Not in the slightest. She tipped her waiters well, she did her taxes, she had even volunteered at a soup kitchen, once, in eighth grade. Why had she thought it was a good idea to book on Frontier Airlines to begin with? Something was bound to go wrong at two hundred dollars a ticket from New York to Phoenix. At that price, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that they couldn’t put a functioning plane together. Maybe they had some sort of deal with Greyhound. Perhaps she had fallen for a corporate scheme, and this was her punishment. Some punishment, too. But, hey, she shouldn’t complain; she wasn’t the one getting a quadruple bypass. All she had to do was get there, and watch.

Jennifer forced a little chuckle out. She’d get to Phoenix eventually. What did it matter if it was on a bus or a plane? This was her daughterly duty, her obligation. She had to be there. If she didn’t show, who else would? Her mother certainly wouldn’t be coming in from Cincinnati, not after fifteen years. She could get away with a three dollar hallmark, a 25 cent postage, and a scribble heart.

It would be just her aunt Helen at the hospital, obliviously reading her father excerpts from neon­pink beauty magazines, her fake, red nails clicking against each other as she turned the gaudy pages. Jennifer smirked as she thought of her father glaring helplessly from his hospital bed as Helen’s piercing voice relentlessly droned on about Jennifer Aniston’s recent nip­slip and the potential dangers of butt injections. Her father may have driven everyone else away, but Helen would always be there, too hopelessly dimwitted to be worn down by his pessimism and obstinance. As much as this image bemused Jennifer, she had left her studio apartment in Brooklyn and budding hostess career to go see her father get sliced open.­­

“Ain’t nothin’ gonna change out there. Don’t know what you’re lookin’ for, lady. But it ain’t out there.” The sweaty loaf next to her had awoken and was evidently capable of speech, if broken.

“Excuse me?” Jennifer yanked out her earbud.

Apparently her glare was fiercer than expected, because the man recoiled slightly. “I was just jokin’, lady. You just looked… well, lost, I guess. And I was sayin’ that, you’re not gonna see anything out there that you haven’t seen for the last three­hundred miles.” He chuckled, nervously. Jennifer noticed the yellow­grey stains encircling his armpits.

“I’m not looking for anything in particular, I’m just looking to look,” Jennifer said, flicking her eyes around the bus. “Where do you want me to look? Because I’ve taken in just about everything this bus has to offer.”

A genuine laugh fell out of the man’s vast, mustache­draped mouth. “You know, I seen you come on to this bus, with your hair all pulled up like that and your nice purse in tow, and I thought to myself: ‘This lady definitely does NOT frequent Greyhound often.’ ”

Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was his halting, southern accent, or maybe it was just her sheer exhaustion, but regardless of the reason, Jen smiled at the man, bright and true. “No, no, not exactly. I think this might be my first time on a bus since middle school.”

Oh God, what had she done? Why had she said that? She knew nothing about this greasy whale. Why had she shared any sort of personal information with him? She quickly curtailed her smile and shifted her body towards the window.

Oblivious to these cues and encouraged by her response, the man laboriously lifted his body into a more upright position and turned to face her. “Hell! I know these buses like the back of my hand. I used to be a commercial driver, you know. Buses, trucks, moving vans, even taxis, I drove ‘em all! And well too, I’m now a route manager at Knight Transportation.”

“Oh, wow,” Jen said, flatly.

“That’s why I was headin’ down to Phoenix, actually. Have a conference down there. Big merger with Vitran, gotta discuss the details. Only the head honchos.” His face crinkled into a proud grin.

“Too bad you missed it, then,” Jen replied curtly, hoping this would cut off the man’s cheerful blabbering.

“Oh, don’t you worry about little old Ron, honey. If we stay on pace, I should be able to make it for my meetings tomorrow morning, with a decent night’s sleep to boot!”

“Honey”? “Little old Ron”? Every fiber of Jen’s being wanted to gag at their utterance, but she tactfully contained her disgust, at least visibly, long enough to ask a pressing question: “Wait, when do you think the bus is getting into Phoenix?”

“Well, let’s see… the plane got into Denver at 11 a.m., right?” Ron paused a second, obviously enjoying belaboring the point slightly. “We sat on the runway for at least two hours while they tried to get that damn door fixed up. Which means we probably chose to board the bus at around 1 p.m. And then, of course, ya’ gotta take traffic into account.”

At this point, Jen was preparing to shove her whole forearm down Ron’s throat and pull the answer out of him, if he didn’t spit it out soon. “I’d say, ‘round this time of year, we’re gonna be gettin’ into the Phoenix area about one or two tonight.”

“One or two o’clock in the morning!” Jennifer exclaimed.

“Well, it ain’t gonna be one or two in the evening, missy.” Ron laughed heartily at his own joke, his shirt pulling up with each snortle, revealing a thick patch of hair surrounding his belly button. He quickly stemmed his laughter, however, when he noticed Jen’s lipstick laden lips press together in anxiety, and her eyes dart quickly to her phone screen. “Oh, my apologies, honey. Didn’t mean to be the bearer of bad news. You missin’ something important?”

“What? No. I was just… I was just curious how much longer I’m going to be stuck on this junker,” Jen snapped, keeping her eyes fastened to her phone screen.

She ignored Ron’s confused stare, and unlocked her iPhone. A new message: Paul went under an hour ago, sunshine. Where are you? I’m beginning to worry! XOXO Helen.​She was sitting next to an garrulous tub of lard, on a hot, stinky bus, in the middle of the desert, that’s where she was. Not standing in out­patient, asking the nurses repetitive questions; not making mind­numbing chit­chat with Helen; not watching her father’s apathetic, wrinkled face disappear behind the surgery room doors. She couldn’t just be there for the surgery, and be done with it. No, that’d be too easy. She slowly typed out a response. S​orry, my connecting flight was grounded, mechanical failure. Next flight wasn’t until tomorrow morning, so I had to take a bus. Be there as soon as I can.​She threw the phone into her lap. She could feel Ron’s beady brown eyes scrutinizing the back of her head, so she kept her eyes locked on the sun­cracked landscape scrolling past her window.

The brown, charred earth reminded her of her dad, of his tough, leathery skin. She thought of him lying there, grimacing, as always. She thought about I.V.’s being slowly pushed into his forearm, about the constant beeps and buzzes of a hospital room ringing in his drooping ears, about how the florescent lights of the surgery room would make his sunken eyes look like lifeless craters. H​e could die, you know,​a voice whispered suddenly from the back of her consciousness. H​e could die, and you’re worried about the trip being worth your time. You’re sick. S​he shook her head slightly, trying to switch mental channels. He wouldn’t die from some stupid bypass. He was tough, determined, bull­headed. If he had survived the heart attack, surely he could survive a little surgery.

And, maybe, when he did, he would reach out to her. Maybe, this would scare him into caring, for once.

“Now, I seen a lot of crazy things in all my years on this green earth. But I ain’t ever seen someone get so worked up about having to spend a few hours on a bus. So, the way I see it, either you’re the biggest crybaby this side of the Mississippi, or you ain’t tellin’ me something,

missy.” Ron’s proud smile had disappeared. He now looked at her with a stern intensity, a solitary bead of sweat rolling down the side of his rotund face.

“I don’t have to tell you anything. And frankly, I’m done talking to you.” She put her earphones back in and pivoted her petite shoulders away from him.

But before she could put on any music, she heard his slightly obstructed voice say: “Well, I never met a gal as snooty as you. Back where I come from, we treat each other with a little bit of respect. I’m sorry I’ve offended your highness so greatly with my humble attempts at conversating.”

That was it. Jen tore out her earbuds. Ron deserved every bit of embarrassment and smallness he was about to feel. “I haven’t seen my father in four years and he’s about to have open heart surgery, and I’m going to miss it. There, is that what you wanted?” Jen settled back in her chair, feeling the goosebumps on her arms, still erect from her outburst.

Instead of a swift apology followed by feverish backpedaling, Ron simply smiled sympathetically, a comforting warmness touching his dark eyes. Without saying a word, he reached down to the hem of his dress shirt and pulled it up to his face. Besides the naked glory of his hairy, voluptuous stomach, Jennifer’s frazzled gaze was also met by a long, purple scar running the length of Ron’s breastbone. The violet tissue was slightly more bulbous and reflected light in a different way than his regular pasty skin. “Got mine done six months ago. Triple bypass.” He pulled his shirt done again, stretching it over his tummy. “Scariest thing that’s ever happened to me. I went in for a check­up one day, I could feel that my heart was beatin’ kinda funny, and two days later I’m under the knife. An emergency. They said I coulda’ died had I waited a month or two more.”

Jennifer twirled her finger around her headphone wire. “He had a heart attack three days ago.” She paused. “They scheduled him for a quadruple bypass as soon as they could take him. It’s crazy.” Ron patted her shoulder reassuringly with his meaty hand. She shrugged. “It sounds so stupid now, but I just sort of thought that he’d always be healthy. I mean, I didn’t, like, literally think about it that way. It was a subconscious thing. He’s my Dad.”

The sun was setting over the desert. Its final rays stained the few cumulonibus clouds hanging listlessly in the sky various shades of maroon, tangerine, and coral. For a moment, they both looked out the window in silence at the back­lit plateaus and the shadows stretching across the sand. “Four years is a long time,” Ron said, in a hushed, raspy tone.

“Yeah,” Jen said. Her eyes moving to the flip­flop dangling from her raised foot.
“If you don’t mind me askin’, what happened?” Ron questioned, after a long pause.
“I was never good enough,” Jen said, flatly. But Ron’s eyes pulled her onward, almost

against her will. “I tried and tried, as a little girl, to win him over, just to make him smile. He was a chicken farmer in Peoria when I was growing up. He always had this annoying, down­in­the­dirt bravado thing. I know he wanted a son. But I was all he got.” Jennifer wanted to stop, but it just kept coming and Ron just kept nodded, taking in every word. “But, regardless, I just, like, let it consume me for so long. All I did was obsess over how to impress him. 4.0’s, dance competitions, spirit awards, equestrian medals, prom queen, I did it all. I wanted to be his princess, to make him proud. But it was never enough, he wanted something I just couldn’t get to. It was like he wanted me to b​e​something different, something other. His expectations just ran me into the ground. I had built my life around him.” Jen gritted her teeth. “Finally, four years ago, I brought my boyfriend, who’s now my fiance, to see him. And, what do you know? He couldn’t have been a bigger asshole to him. Just rude, disapproving, and condescending. So, I said to myself: ‘Fuck it. He never cares, so neither will I.’ ”

Ron grunted, scrunching his face in empathy. “That’s real sad. I’m sorry to hear that.” It was obvious he didn’t really know what to do or say, and neither did she. She felt gross. She didn’t usually talk like that, about feelings and the past. She felt petty and weak.

“I got a son, Rodney,” Ron said, breaking the silence. “He’s six now. Or, as he likes to say, six and three­quarters.” Jen squeezed out a pleasant smile as Ron dug into his left pocket and pulled out a dated Blackberry. It looked like a toy in his huge hands. “Wanna see a photo of him? He just got his orange belt in karate.”

The photo was of a scrawny, tan boy with cowlicked brown hair, holding a broken wooden board. A cock­eyed smile was smeared across his face. He was missing one of his front teeth and his little pink tongue was poking out of the gap slightly. Ron stood behind the child, hands clasped firmly on his shoulders, wearing the same proud smile she had seen earlier.

“I travel so much now, with the merger and everything,” Ron continued. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to go to stuff like that anymore. It kills me.” Jen accidentally slid the photo over to the right, and a picture of a truly atrocious, homemade card flashed onto the screen. “Oh, that’s the um…” Ron blushed. “That’s the get­well card Rodney made me after the operation. Or, at least tried to make. Downright awful ain’t it?” Ron chuckled heartily, but as Jen examined his face, she could see tears filling the corners of his eyes.

“It meant a lot, though. To have him do that. Made it a helluva lot easier.” Jen nodded and handed the phone back to him, unable to say anything.

The bus pulled into a gas station to fill up. Ron waddled off into the convenience mart to relieve himself and buy some munchies. Jen stood stretching her legs by one of the gas pumps, watching the rest of the passengers mingle and talk. The words “QET MELL, DAADY” were scrawled across her brain as her phone began to buzz in the side pocket of her purse. I​ncoming call from: Helen Balinger. H​er stomach dropped and she could feel her palms begin to ooze sweat. She lifted the phone to her ear.

“Hello?” Jen said, the sound getting caught awkwardly in her throat.

“Jenny! You poor thing! I been worried sick, downright sick, over here. A bus from Denver to Phoenix? I’d rather be dead. Dead I say!” She cackled. “A bit of a screwy to say that around here, though, I suppose.”

Jen rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help smiling a little. “I’m fine, Helen. How’s Dad?”

“You should really see this place, Jen. It’s depressing. They’ve only got fluorescent lights throughout the whole place. You know how those lights just make everything look so creepy. It’s dirty too! I walked into the bathroom, and I swear I almost vomited it smelled so bad. I’ve been holding it for hours! The coffee’s cold, too.” She hushed her voice to a whisper. “Also, there was this man in the waiting room who kept looking at me. He had this weird lazy eye…”

“Helen,” Jen almost yelled. “Is Dad out yet? Is he okay?”

“Oh, yes! He’s fine. The surgery went quicker than expected, only two­and­a­half hours instead of three! He’s sitting right next to me, actually. Looking chipper as always.” Jen pictured her reaching out and pinching his pale cheeks. “Here, talk to him yourself.”

“No, that’s fine, Helen. I just wanted….” Jennifer manically protested. But her objection was cut off by an unpleasant array of distorted shuffling noises as Helen, presumably, nestled the phone on the pillow next to her father’s head.

There was an uncomfortable pause before her father finally squeaked out a meek “Hi, Jenny.”

The weak tenderness of his voice was off­putting, almost frightening. Jennifer remembered cringing a little, the hair raising on the back of her neck, as his booming tenor called her downstairs to dinner when she was young. At her equestrian competitions, his screaming had always resonated clearly above the din of the other parents’ applause But now, he sounded pained and feeble. She could hear him panting for breath.

“Hey, Dad. How are you feeling?” she asked, keeping her tone measured and calm. “Auntie Helen says you’re looking good.”

Another pause. His breathing came in spastic cycles. “They say… I’ll be… fine. I don’t feel it, though.” He tried to laugh lightly, but started to wheeze. She could hear a man’s voice in the background, and then Helen’s shrill laugh. “Listen,” her father began slowly, “I know we haven’t…” He ran out of energy, unable to summon enough strength to even finish a sentence.

“Just rest for now, Dad. It’s probably not good for you to be talking very much,” Jen managed to say, despite the tears beginning to roll down her reddening cheeks.

“I’m just… I’m just…” His voice trailed off once again. Something began to beep loudly. She sensed that her time to talk was up.

“I’m coming, Dad. I’ll be there soon. I promise. You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. I know it, Dad. You’ll be okay. Just hang on, for me.” Jennifer’s voice wavered and broke.

“See you… soon,” her father breathed into the phone.

By: Pearson Probst ’18

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