The Switch

I sting and swell
It grasps a switch
A week's time it took to bend
back, and here again, the arm
Pointed at, commanding no army
Sweat in its elbow crease
My foot locked
Under tangled root
"Get up" says the stick
With a stomp to the spine

I wear the welts
Cuts stitched by needle in mouth
Bleeding stopped
"Look, look," it says,
"You're learning!"
Pick another and another
Thick branches
Tiniest twigs
A whole forest,
Trunks, naked
From the ground to the stars
Giant sundials marking its return

When the storm comes
Their arms will not catch the wind
Without greens, the trunk will die
I do not brush off the termites
or the carpenter ants that follow
the weathered hem of my jeans
Leaves and discarded switches crunch
Under feet approaching
It has to travel far, now, for whipping tools

"Which do you like?" it asks.
I tell it to go to hell.
"Knotted and dense,
Sticky with sap,
Straight as sin,
Or chewed by ants?"
I am learning. I am learning.
I tell it to give me the ants.
The air breaks and I cry out.
But I know something now:
The nest is built in hollow wood.

Once More With Feeling

A taste like sour milk.
My nerves split my eyebrows.
Shoulder blades contract
and stick, and stretching
won’t melt muscle fibers.

I feel my heart-- rounder,
And louder, and more central
than in the diagrams.
It falls into my stomach
To feed a hunger,
Then spins up into my throat
Until I cough up metal.

I can't even shit.

It was an easy dosing.
I was stacking orange bottles.
Antidepressants, mostly,
Up straight in a tower.
The pills freckling containers
Like windows
on skyscrapers at dusk.

I flipped the rearview mirror
to night view, anti-glare.
Glance up and see the buildings
when the freeway curves-- I'm
curious, who's working late,
and what do they do,
and who pays them?

I looked up the ones I couldn't remember.
Names patronizing and overconfident.
Grants abilities. Makes you well.
For sale on the national news:
"Increases serotonin and norepinephrine
and makes it easier to be happy!"

I've been doing this too long
I don't believe it.

I grab Ritalin out of the pile.
The news reports on Ritalin”
“Nightmare drug does more harm.”
I don't believe those either.

I'd exhausted myself hanging
the delicates on wires.
I wanted big fat checks
on the to-do list,
and the pills were past their potency so,

Just one?

Hello, Walls.
Have you always stood so straight?
I love the corners, sturdy,
like mothers wrapped over their babies in Pompeii.
Seems I haven't much to say
on the page.
The day stays

I knew better.
There's a reason the bottle's still full,
And I only trust doctors
to heal real hearts.

And I know, obviously,
this isn't "the one" for me.
But the tower is tall now.
Floors of orange,
Shaded in the glare-proof mirror;
It's just advertising.

It looks different in the day.
Just a big, gray block among many.
I trust more
The sky.
It is more mine than the buildings.
Stones you can pocket.

Skies owned by no one.
Equally yours
as mine and the landlord's.

And I get it,
Why, when the neighbor in 3B sees me
She picks the bottles from the dumpster.

The sky is inconsistently blue.

But the pills aren't there.
I mixed them with coffee grounds,
in a plastic bag in the kitchen trash.
I think she would've done the same thing,
But what do I know?
Half my friends are on something.
Maybe they're not stacking.
Maybe they're refilling.
Maybe they're working.

I wish them luck,
But I'm done.

Gun Control

What a relief it would be to be dead
I think of this when we discuss gun control

I won’t vote for it
I say
I probably won’t
I don’t like things that control

But I wish they’d stop making new ones
I wish the want went away
And just that wish makes you mad

I told you it must be easy
For you to see target practice
and hunting as casual sports

I see myself on stained linoleum tile
I know if I waited
Just one more hour
I wouldn’t want to pull the trigger

It’s like we are learning to walk
And you are better at navigating
sharp corners
You say I should have to put padding on the corners
So you can have your choice of furniture
I want rounded furniture
soft beveled glass
or sanded oak

In a couple hundred years
we can make the whole world safe for walking

Pretend it’s now
At home
As we stumble freely
Shins sliding against smooth pleather edges

I promise I am not crazy
You are two tragedies away from forgetting
how to balance your head
on your neck
Let alone
bear the weight of arms
Believe me
You are not even the reason for your own sanity
Some burdens were shouldered for your benefit
Some slave labors and surgeries and salaries saved

And if you think you owe
the founding fathers your freedom
You’re looking too far back

There were nights I stayed up
Because sleep meant
Waking to face another day
And when the morning came

I made you breakfast