Happiness is Poetry: Matthew Dickman
More than putting another man on the moon,
more than a New Year’s resolution of yogurt and yoga,
we need the opportunity to dance
with really exquisite strangers. A slow dance
between the couch and dinning room table, at the end
of the party, while the person we love has gone
to bring the car around
because it’s begun to rain and would break their heart
if any part of us got wet. A slow dance
to bring the evening home, to knock it out of the park. Two people
rocking back and forth like a buoy. Nothing extravagant.
A little music. An empty bottle of whiskey.
It’s a little like cheating. Your head resting
on his shoulder, your breath moving up his neck.
Your hands along her spine. Her hips
unfolding like a cotton napkin
and you begin to think about how all the stars in the sky
are dead. The my body
is talking to your body slow dance. The Unchained Melody,
Stairway to Heaven, power-cord slow dance. All my life
I’ve made mistakes. Small
and cruel. I made my plans.
I never arrived. I ate my food. I drank my wine.
The slow dance doesn’t care. It’s all kindness like children
before they turn four. Like being held in the arms
of my brother. The slow dance of siblings.
Two men in the middle of the room. When I dance with him,
one of my great loves, he is absolutely human,
and when he turns to dip me
or I step on his foot because we are both leading,
I know that one of us will die first and the other will suffer.
The slow dance of what’s to come
and the slow dance of insomnia
pouring across the floor like bath water.
When the woman I’m sleeping with
stands naked in the bathroom,
brushing her teeth, the slow dance of ritual is being spit
into the sink. There is no one to save us
because there is no need to be saved.
I’ve hurt you. I’ve loved you. I’ve mowed
the front yard. When the stranger wearing a shear white dress
covered in a million beads
comes toward me like an over-sexed chandelier suddenly come to life,
I take her hand in mine. I spin her out
and bring her in. This is the almond grove
in the dark slow dance.
It is what we should be doing right now. Scrapping
for joy. The haiku and honey. The orange and orangutang slow dance.
Whenever I return a fight breaks out
in the park, someone buys a lottery ticket,
steals a bottle of vodka, lights
a cigarette underneath the overpass.
I-5 rips the neighborhood in half
the way the Willamette rips the city in half,
it sounds like the ocean
if I am sitting alone in the backyard
looking up at the lilac.
This is where white kids lived
and listened to Black Sabbath
while they beat the shit out of each other
for bragging rights,
running in packs, carrying baseball bats
that were cut from the same hateful trees
our parents had planted
before the Asian kids moved in
to run the mini-marts
and carry knives to school, before the Mexicans
moved in and mowed everyone’s front yard—
white kids wanting anything
anybody ever took from them in shaved heads
and combat boots.
On the weekend our furious mothers
applied their lipstick
that left red cuts on the ends of their Marlboro Reds
and our fathers quietly did whatever
when trying to beat back the dogs of sorrow
from tearing them limb from limb.
Lents, I have been away so long
I imagine that you’re a musical
some rich kid from New York wrote about credit,
debt, and then threw in Kool-Aid
to make it funny for everybody.
I can see the dance line,
the high kicks of the skinheads, twirling
metal pipes, stomping in unison
while the committed rage of the Gypsy Jokers
square off with the committed rage
of the single mothers.
The orchestra pit is filled with Pit bulls
and a Doberman conducts them all
into a frenzy.
In the end someone gets evicted, someone
gets jumped into his new family
and they call themselves Los Brazos,
King Cobras, South-Side White Pride.
Dear 82nd avenue, dear 92nd and Foster,
I am your strange son,
you saved me when I needed saving
and I remember your arms wrapped around
my bassinet like patrol cars wrapped around
the school yard
the night Jason went crazy—
waving his father’s gun above his head,
bathed in red and blue flashing lights,
all American, broken in half and beautiful.
Last night my neighbor was looking a little enlightened,
you know, the way bodies do
after spending the afternoon having sex
on an old couch while responsible people are suffering
with their clothes on in cubicles and libraries.
He had that look vegetables get
in really nice grocery stores where the tomatoes aren’t just red
they’re goddamn red!
He was like that. Like a glowing, off-the-vine Roma
sitting in his living room picking pineapple off a Hawaiian pizza
and telling me about his father who was a real mother
fucker. I ask him if he still loved his dad, or if he loved him more
now that he is dead. Sure, he says, I love anything that’s dead.
Someone’s hand floats up onto the beach
while the body is still lost below the current, a vase of lilacs
turned brown, the black archipelago of mourners marching
up the hill. My neighbor is there to greet each of them
with a box of chocolates and a barbershop quartet in the background.
When my father died, he says opening a beer, he was no longer
my father. He was no longer a man. It’s easy to love things
when they’re powerless, like children and goldfish.
This is the way with enlightened people. They say things
that are so infuriatingly simple when the world is not.
So I put down my Pepsi and pull out the big card.
What about Hitler? I ask. You can’t love Hitler!
My neighbor puts a piece of pineapple on his tongue like a sacrament,
sucks the juice out of it, chews it up, then turns
his head slow like a cloud and says I can love anybody I feel like loving.
And I say that’s ridiculous.
And he says what’s ridiculous is that you don’t. And there he is again,
shining in the grocery store, pulling the bow off
the heart-shaped candies and putting one softly into his father’s mouth.