Commonplace

the one who watched her walk to sixth grade from his front door, the gold bathrobe open, exposed

the one who slipped a tongue when no one was watching, just a goodnight kiss to his best friend’s daughter

the one who assumed flirt meant fuck, crushed her hard against a suddenly reclined seat

the one who figured the Big Mac and fries bought him sex, like a toy you get with a Happy Meal

the one who insisted on air conditioning in winter, who joked about cold nipples while pouring hot coffee in the breakroom

the one who called her girl in a room full of men, then ignored her while she led the meeting

the one who slammed her into a corner, left bruises as a reminder that dishes were to be done before he got home

the one who dined her, wined her, loved her, then left her alone, in the dark…and never came back

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. #MeToo. Image: Man and Woman I, Edvard Munch.

Life Lessons from Dad

Study hard, be smart.

Weigh the pros and cons of your decisions.

Stand on your own two feet.

Hard work is a key to success.

Dream big.

Love what you love with passion.

When you fall off a horse, get right back on.

Laugh a lot and often…

and you’ll come out on the other side just fine.

That’s my dad and me, college graduation 1988. He died 7 years later, 22 years ago today, at the age of 52. Life is fleeting — perhaps that is the biggest lesson of all.

8 Years, No Looking Back

The wall behind the cashier is filled with familiar colorful boxes, and I remember clearly how happy that used to make me. The ahhhhh of the fix, its brand name rolling off my tongue as if I were ordering filet mignon or sauvignon blanc.

Outside of a passing glance, a nod of recognition one might furtively offer an old lover in the check-out line, I have no reaction to the merchandising. There is no impulse or yearning; no longing, except for those romantic moments that must someday find their way to poems: 4AM coffee, midnight highways, Texas horizons, Rue La Boétie.

But memory is funny that way. It can make romance from refuse, and there is nothing more refusious than an addiction — the wasting away of time and money for something that will never fulfill you. Never fill you.

I promised myself, the last time I saw a cigarette, that I would only entertain its companionship again when I turned 80. It was a break-the-glass-in-case-of-emergency promise that I might not keep after all.

Quite frankly, I know some pretty kick-ass 80-year-olds, and if I am blessed to be so gifted with a long, creative life? I’ll have no need to take up with the likes of the cigarette again.

It’s been eight years since I last held one, that challenge of break-up barely a memory now. Except today…when I take a moment to honor the anniversary of one of the hardest things I ever did. Except today…when I remember the people who offered their whole-hearted witness and support. I remain forever grateful to each and every one of them.

They…you…saved my life.

With love,

JenSig

©2017. Jen Payne. Want to stop smoking, too? Please read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. It’s the only way to go. xoxo

Greener Grass

glass-enclosed vestibule
the woman behind the counter
a dozen customers seated

The author paints a portrait
of the me I did not become
there in black and white

there seemed to be a connection
you knew they all knew one another

and me
wondering:
what if I remained?

Worked my shifts.
Married the cowboy.
Had the kids.
Lived that life.

Would it have been
the better or the worse?

Would I?

My finger dogears the page,
as if to say I was here
or remember this
the alternate ending

blurred and obscured
I was drawn to it as if to a dream.

Poem ©2016, Jen Payne, inspired by “A Great Good Place” from A Cape Cod Notebook by Robert Finch.

New Haven, Circa 1971

That she would consider it
“the amazing city”
is about as ironic
as the wry half smile
on her 5-year-old face.

She didn’t see the
protests, trials, riots.
(She never does.)
Only the possibilities.
The lofty towers
and filigreed intentions
of a something that
seemed larger than life.
Of a something that indeed
seemed “amazing.”

But what’s in a word?
the poet asks
with a similar smile:
amazing…..astonishing
half…..not wholly true
wry…..sardonic
ironic…..absurd

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne

338 Arch Street

My duck lived
under the back porch
of my grandparents’ house
at the top of the hill
on Arch Street,
surrounded by privet
and a bowered
maze of azaleas.
The screen door creaked
and slammed into
the kitchen where
the middle drawer
had a secret panel
your finger could
push-pull for Wonder.
The rooms smelled of
eucalyptus and river
and whiskey.
In the living room,
too thin for a couch,
three chairs angled
to face the television
and the gun cabinet,
dusted and polished daily.
The deer head
didn’t have a name,
the duck did—
perhaps that’s why
we let him go.
Set loose by a bridge,
spared or sacrificed,
no one knows.

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. National Poetry Month, 25. Image: Duckling, David Burliuk.

Tenacity

At autopsy,
they will not debate the
boring faded scar on my forehead
(sled hit tree, 1970)
or the slight divot on my chin
(golf club, 1974).
The discussion will be about
the hard marks of betrayal:
the stab in the back,
the heart cracked open,
the lungs held breathless,
the chafe on the thighs
from the necessary action
of getting back on the horse……again.
Damn analogy.
Stuck with me since dad
pulled a bloody rag from the
glove compartment,
pointed to the tree
and said neither of us
was worse for the wear,
then made me get on that sled,
pass that tree,
and move forward.

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. National Poetry Month, 13. Image: Fir Tree In Snow, Eyvind Earle.