Fight your better judgment ‘till you’re sinister again: five poems by Mindy Nettifee

The Year You Thought You Were Dying

The year you thought you were dying
was a really great year.

You ate licorice on the beach in January,
swam rum sauced in the icy Pacific
wearing only blue rubber flippers
and your grandfather’s dog tags
and for the first time, it felt good to be cold,
it felt good to be so cold it hurt.

You doted on pigeons and stray cats.
You ate honey peanuts in the park
and re-watched every movie that ever made you
cry, including Steve Martin’s The Jerk.
You tattooed your entire body in Pablo Neruda
translations and cherry blossoms.

You blew all your money on comfortable shoes
and one of those mattresses made from NASA space foam.
You slept the sleep of assassins and kings—remorseless.

You bought chocolate bars from all the kids who came
to your door and stock-piled them in your broom closet.
You left them in your will to THE SECRETARIES,
every last one of them.

You volunteered at the local senior center playing bingo.
When you won you forced to whole room to take shots of
Welch’s grape juice and sing the national anthem.

And you spent time with your favorite lover.
You let him get close.
Secret suicide note, nonsense alibi close.
shampoo scent dissection close.

Close enough to memorize your tells,
hand you your ass at pillow poker,
make your defenses look like the silly decoupage
of paper angels and Victorian roses that they were.
Close enough that your laughter
punched him with mint gum puffs.
Close enough that his sighs drove circles
in the parking lots of your sighs,
close enough to measure your ribcage
in wrists, your palms in lips.

So close, you didn’t even notice
your heart speed up, then stop,
when he kissed you so hard,
when the New Year’s ball dropped down.


All I Have To Say For Myself  

The last time you came to see me
there were anchors in your eyes,
hardback books in your posture.
You were the five star general of sureness,
a crisp white tuxedo of a man.

I was fiddling with my worn coat pockets,
puffing false confidence ghosts in the cold January air.
My hands were shitty champagne flutes
brimming with cheap merlot.
I couldn’t touch you without ruining you,
so I didn’t touch you at all.

It’s when you’re on the brink of something
that you lose your balance.
You told me that once.
When I can’t bring myself to say what I need to,
my heart plays Russian Roulette with my throat.
I swear I fired that night, but, nothing.

Someday, I’ll show you the bullet I had for you,
after time has done the wash.
I’ll take it out of the jar of missed opportunities.
We’ll hold it up to the light.
You’ll roll it around your mouth like a fallen tooth.
You won’t forgive me exactly,
but we’ll laugh about how small it is.
We’ll wonder how such a little thing
could ever have meant so much.


This is the Nonsense of Love

I.
Our kiss is a secret handshake, a password.
We love like spies, like bruised prize fighters,
like children building tree houses.

Our love is serious business.
One look from you and my spine
reincarnates as kite string.

When I hesitate to hold your hand,
it is because to know is to be responsible for knowing.

II.
There is no clean way to enter
the heavy machinery of the heart.

Just jagged cutthroat questions.
Just the glitter and blood production.

III.
The truth is this:
My love for you is the only empire
I will ever build.

When it falls,
as all empires do,
my career in empire building will be over.

I will retreat to an island.
I will dabble in the vacation-hut industry.
I will skulk about the private libraries and public parks.

I will fold the clean clothes.
I will wash the dishes.
I will never again dream of having the whole world.


The First Time

“…some people think the truth is the worst thing that can happen.
The truth is not the worst thing that can happen.”
-Tony Hoagland

I.

The first time your heart was torn from your chest,
You thought you were dying.
You knew you could not live with the empty space.
So you replaced your heart with metaphors
And set out to create a world where the metaphor was unbreakable.

Now look what you’ve done—
You can’t breathe so you write.
You can’t hurt so you drink rum and pour our pirate chanties.
You can’t want revenge so you leave.

II.

When I see you I have two thoughts:
You are the reason The Smith’s wrote songs,
And my god, you are beautiful.

You are so beautiful
Blinking stars go blind.

But I can see this is going to get ugly.
The metaphors don’t make you feel whole anymore.
You sell out your deepest insecurities for a handful of laughs.
This life has you wound so tight you make grandfather clocks look relaxed.
You hold your body like banks hold money—all locked up.
Your shoulders are glass rocks waiting for the next attack.

But you’ve got it all wrong.

You don’t survive history.
History survives you.

There is no breakthrough without breakdown.

III.

If you’re going to break, shatter.
No explanations.
No limp-legged dog excuses.
No messing with this bullet proof vest fury
So popular with the cops and the presidents.

You’ve got to break like Texas.
You’ve got to take the pain from the safety valve of your heart
And return it to your fists.
Fight your better judgment ‘till you’re sinister again,
‘till your body remembers what it already knows how to do—
bend back
and manifest grief.
Scream torches ‘till you embarrass the enlightened.

Please. No more polite conversations with your death wish.
Give it something useful to do.
Change your life.

Cause I can’t stand to see you like this.
So blue, my eyes turn green in your presence.
Listen—you are so beautiful,
Grass pushes through sidewalk cracks just to kiss your feet.

IV.

Maybe no one ever told you,
But the heart IS a metaphor.
Yours is growing so strong
You’ll have your rhythm back any day now—

Loving like rumours spread.
Dreaming like lunatic spacemen jump from their suits.
Living like you never forgot how.


Untitled

If a man is only as good as his word,
then I want to marry a man with a vocabulary like yours.

The way you say dicey and delectable and octogenarian
in the same sentence— that really turns me on.
The way you describe the oranges in your backyard
using anarchistic and intimate in the same breath.

I would follow the legato and staccato of your tongue
wrapping around your diction
until listening become more like dreaming
and dreaming became more like kissing you.

I want to jump off the cliff of your voice
into the suicide of your stream of consciousness.
I want to visit the place in your heart where the wrong words die.
I want to map it out with a dictionary and points
of brilliant light until it looks more like a star chart
than a strategy for communication.
I want to see where your words are born.
I want to find a pattern in the astrology.

I want to memorize the scripts of your seductions.
I want to live in the long-winded epics of your disappointments,
in the haiku of your epiphanies.
I want to know all the names you’ve given your desires.
I want to find my name among them,

‘cause there is nothing more wrecking sexy than the right word.
I want to thank whoever told you
there was no such thing as a synonym.
I want to throw a party for the heartbreak
that turned you into a poet.

And if it is true that a man is only as good as his word
then, sweet jesus, let me be there
the first time you are speechless,
and all your explosive wisdom becomes
a burning ball of sun in your throat,
and all you can bring yourself to utter is, “oh god, oh god.”

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Fight your better judgment ‘till you’re sinister again: five poems by Mindy Nettifee

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