Ask, Ask, Ask (When Nobody’s Listening)

“If you’re going to tell me all my faults,
I’ll tell you the ones I’m gonna keep.”
—Tommy Stinson, “Anybody Else”

When did all the words get taken,
roles get cast?

When did every word become the name
of an elaborate game in a virtual world?

Where do sentences come from?

Who invented the short-sleeved shirt?
Who invented the shirt?

Where do sentences come from?
What about the neighborhoods that have no name?

How can a place have no scenery?
I have never understood the difference

between the front row
and the stage. It’s there though—

the edge, the moat, the river
that can’t be crossed

without a bridge
that stops lifting

or swinging long enough
to jump on.

There are no guarantees
that the other side will make you

famous. That fraternizing
with the other side won’t make

a difference. The next song
will be “Tops.”

I used to talk
to strangers.

Now I talk to myself—
strangest of all.

I am so bewildered
I have forgotten who

you are. Who you were
yesterday and on the day

that dude from The New Yorker
interviews Gil Scott-Heron

while a propane torch plays on and on
in the background.

I want to ask if we met
the first time

decades ago on the island
along the Airport Road

when my mother stops the station wagon
to pick up a long-haired, shirtless teenager.

Me, still a kid, sand in my swimsuit,
I shove the squeaky styrofoam cooler

against my sister to make room.
But my mother never picks up hitchhikers.

I wave to you from the wayback.
I swear I see you wink at me

as you shrink into the distance.
That was you, wasn’t it? I don’t ask.

Some mornings I believe
the kiss and the sentence

once lived in the same house.
They had separate bedrooms

connected by a breezeway
that traps no wind.

The whole purpose of a swing
is to get higher

and higher.
I know that now.

They call this confessional
poetry. I always liked the ritual.

Those upright coffins
so hot and dark inside.

A screen slides open.
A disembodied voice floats in.

Someone laughs outside—a wild cackle.

Did you want to be a priest
the way I believed I would become a nun?

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