Matthew Lippman is the author of three poetry collections: American Chew, winner of The Burnside Review Book Prize (Burnside Review Book Press, 2013), Monkey Bars (Typecast Publishing, 2010), and The New Year of Yellow, winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize (Sarabande Books, 2007). He is the recipient of the 2014 Georgetown Review Magazine Prize and The Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize from The American Poetry Review.
THIS MODERN LIFE
I miss my wife
because she’s so caught up in her feminist texts on Moses
that I can’t even see her face
when it’s up in my face screaming
cut the cake cut the cake
cut the fucking cake
at our 5 year old daughter’s birthday party.
Come now, Soft One, I say,
just put your hand on my cheek,
your lips on my head,
lets croon soft in the way that owls do
when they don’t think.
I miss her eyeballs dilating and darting.
I miss the laughter inside the laughter
that could be two dogs falling asleep
or a tulip on a hill, yellow without a name.
I miss my kids when they are in the playground
and I am on the swing set and Jesus
comes off the slide kicking up a little sand.
When the little one smashes her head into a mailbox
and the blood gets in my eyes from wiping my eyes
to see the wound,
to suture the wound,
the blind leading the blind.
I miss dogs and cats and poetry and meatloaf and my best friend in his cornfield
with no pants.
I miss the globe I had when I was six
that spun forever after giving it the whirl
then stopped with my finger—Indonesia, Peru, Madagascar with the fruit.
I miss Madagascar and tangerines
and the business of life
that takes away from seeing that I am nowhere to be found.
Myself I miss except in the corners of the night, in the attic,
by the unlit lamp.
I banish the bills the phone the car the American Dream the opossum
that eats our trash
to another corner until morning.
I put my right hand on my cheek,
my left hand on couch
I suck up the nitrates and sulfites and rotted fruit of myself
I do it for hours.
I do it so in the morning I can go on missing the world,
to be the guy in the world the fetches the orange juice,
calls the clients, buys the grapes,
and builds the big house
so everyone who has a place to sleep
and everyone who doesn’t have a place to sleep,
has a place to sleep.
THE SADDEST THING
The saddest thing I ever saw was some girl in the playground
crawl into the sandbox, ball herself in a corner for half an hour,
No one kicked her.
No one shot her with a water pistol.
Her eyes were open the whole time.
The mother or nanny talked on a pink phone.
Some boys played cops and robbers which was odd
because I didn’t know that boys still played
cops and robbers.
Not one single person went up to her with a bottle of water
or held out a hand.
She was a sloth and a turtle,
she was the opposite of a fighter pilot or Lebron James.
I wondered if there was any peace in her 8-year-old stomach
and how it must feel to be so without.
Then I wondered if, really, she was with,
so with herself in her being ignored
that the whole thing was my problem,
the world’s sadness,
there alone at the mechanic shop, the computer,
laying brick with a bunch of other guys in neon yellow hardhats?
It’s hard to tell some days
with fractures in the sidewalk,
those sink holes in Russia,
those guys in black masks holding up black machine guns
in the backs of black pick-up trucks.
In that way, she was not the saddest thing I ever saw at the playground.
In that way, I was glad that everyone stayed away in tears,
and vaulted across the monkey bars,
flew headfirst down that spiral slide
into one big heap of human flesh
that couldn’t stop from touching.