BY JIM CIHLAR
DESIGNS FOR LIVING
With panache, the ASID designer≠a narrative contrivance≠
has juxtaposed events in time to create a warm vignette,
inviting the eye to dwell on the arrangement.
First she came in with some whitewash
to a bitter parting of the ways
with an unethical employer
painted it out, sanded it down,
then came back in and umbered it
to make it look older, farther away.
For interest, she created a focal wall
of sun against beige stucco the March morning
I picked up the marble sheet cake decorated with
Congratulations Peggy and Tom
and red roses in bud and in full bloom on white frosting
at Whiteway Supermarket in honor of my new hire's
upcoming delivery. The inspiration-piece of Peggy
in this vignette adds a punch of color.
Who would have expected a what-you-see-
is-what-you-get character in this room-for-change?
Every room holds a surprise,
including this one's echoes of contrast
to twenty years ago, riding my bike down the hill from Safeway
with my backpack crammed with granola, spaghetti, Haagen-
Dazs, home to my efficiency apartment,
or to fifteen years ago, the yellow, used Mazda GLC hatchback
with black interior and rusted out floor,
the muffler held to the undercarriage by a bent wire hanger,
damaged front bumper replaced as a prank with metal cut-out hands.
But the piece de resistance is how the design professional
has accessorized, creating much-needed pattern.
She came back into the display of my morning errand,
cake safely braced in the passenger seat of of the O93 Toyota Corolla,
and arranged to have a live version of an old song
that used to be unnoticed background noise
playing on the stereo, But time makes you bolder,
even children get older. And I'm getting older too.
So, take my love, take it down
Climb a mountain and turn around.
As I drive into work
to begin the party.
BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS
I have just confessed to another adult professional
that I am nervous and scared.
Where do you work, my dentist asks, to calm me.
She straps the nitrous oxide tube over my face.
Think of malls, movies, and past jobs, I tell myself, safe compartments
of now-unfragmented experience. Slow breaths are good, she says.
Metal and latex press down on the back of my throat,
and a machine beeps in time. Yesterday,
Joanne told me about hearing her neighbor
throw out the neighbor's husband.
Across town, our neighbors talk to Bill and not me.
Maybe they hear me yelling at the cats
Over burgers and pie, Joanne and I talked about the shorthand of marriage.
There are things I could say with a lot more tact,
but I don't. That would be a good thing.
When I was five I thumbed through the Charlie Brown cookbook<
Lucy's butter potatoes, Linus's grape drink<
in the back seat of my mother's white Falcon,
the engine running, my mother in the driver's seat,
my father framed by a wall of mulberries,
voices raised over the idle, they told each other to fuck off.
When did I become an animal, I wonder, yelling at cats.
The dentist uses a tube to suck up the blood
after she inserts the needle in the hinge of my jaw.
But how else will the cats learn, I said to Joanne.
Have they learned, she asked. No, I told her.
My dentist and her assistant probably do not mind
that I am writing a poem while they work,
that I am thinking, Health, Money, as the needle goes in.
They probably don't mind that I am tallying
the times I could afford to go to the dentist and the times that I couldn't,
that I hallucinate the smell of a mall's movie theater<
the night I went to Apache 6 to take two hours off the clock
from my laborious worrying about work.
THEORIES OF EDUCATION
We learn by falling
We learn by standing up
We learn by teaching
We learn by forgetting
We learn by seeing
We learn by seeking
We learn by holding
We learn by finding
We learn by losing
We learn by loosening
We learn by closing up
We learn by changing
We learn by doing
We learn by don't
We learn by rot
We learn by rote
We learn by moving
We learn by loving
We learn by kissing
We learn by writing
We learn by reading
We learn by repeating
We learn by repeating
We learn by chanting
We learn by praying
We learn by paying
We learn by pain
We learn by staying
We learn by failing
We learn by stopping
ROOM BY ROOM
My bedroom is through a doorway of my office,
my boss is in the next room.
* * *
Bill and I are in a big pink master bedroom
that is an amalgam of all the places I grew up in,
the houses where my sisters live now.
* * *
I've been in the house for a week on my own,
living with a family I don't know but he does.
I took care of our cats while waiting for him to arrive.
* * *
We are in bed and for once I leave the door open by accident.
My mother walks in, not as I remember her, but older,
short white hair, dignified.
* * *
She's carrying a plate she's prepared of lettuce and chicken.
She had always forced food on me when she'd been drinking.
I did not eat back then.
As she walks in silently, I say, No, no, no,
and she throws the plate on Bill
as if slapping it down on a counter.
* * *
Bill eats the food and pronounces it good.
I walk through the house and see my boss
sitting in the dining room, bored and vacant.
* * *
When I tell the story later at lunch to Joanne,
this becomes a good dream.
What did you think of the house in Saint Paul today, you asked.
Today I saw the missing tiles at the base of the fireplace,
the hairline fracture in the dining room wall,
and the stains under the carpet.
Today has been a good day to live in Minneapolis.
Walking downtown at lunch
I was crowded by businesspeople and shoppers.
I've been storing up impressions to save
as if this won't last.
Last night I used my remaining exposures
for Polaroids of my cat in the living room,
my office set-up in the dining room,
which I tagged with ≥Teach Tolerance≤
address labels and slid into the plastic sleeves
of a Target photo album.
Sometimes a little upheaval is good for a life.
Today you talked about how two years have passed
with one marriage ending, another beginning.
I've been hobbled by this would we be if you had been free and clear.
You are not revealing secrets,
you are saying words that are long past due.
I'm at Lake Calhoun. I've come here for
the crackled blur of sunset revealed
through the scrim of gingkoes,
the ducks that bob and preen,
upend and feed, taking the ride
in good measure,
the camel-back waves that bring up the orange
in the water's green.
Instead I'm caught up in
a concert of rollerbladers, and the mom in spandex
who weaves her three-wheeled stroller
through a scrum of investment bankers
in white T-shirts and black nylon shorts.
Sometimes it takes a harridan to say
not this, but that. That's my failure, because
I did not. Across the lake is a city
where you live. I came here to write this poem.
Today I said, back when I thought it was a choice
between two houses,
then I believed I had steered us
to the wrong one.
Here's what I didn't tell you.
Across the lake is a city.
I came here to write this poem.
Sometimes I can picture myself behind the leaded-glass window,
our cats sleeping in the sun upstairs,
you planting hostas along the foundation, or maybe even
I remember sitting in the garden behind the hospital
last summer, you with your sisters in the waiting room,
then all of us next to your mother as she asked
What is this thread down my chest
and we answer
It is your scar.
Of all the adults I've known,
how have they kept themselves going,
working jobs for twenty years or more,
living in one place? What does it take to throw
one person up against another?
Everything past is known.
If this is what it took,
then I can be new.