Denise Duhamel


Once I fell into a hole on West 23rd Street,
tumbled like Alice and hit my chin
on the sidewalk. A workman had to hoist me out—
Didn’t you see the cone? he said. This was no Wonderland,
this was New York, and the workman was sure
to use a voice that told me I was a dunce,
a glue squirt, and that I should even think
of a lawsuit. I stared at the orange cone—
a dunce hat, a giant Elmer’s cap.
Didn’t you see this, lady? By “lady” he meant “stupid.”
I had been petrified of the sidewalk
that suddenly turned into a grate on lower Broadway
ever since a square snapped off like a flying carpet
that plummets to an abrupt landing. My friend went down
a few feet on that grid slice that came loose. Miraculously,
she only twisted her ankle. Still, it hurt her
to climb the ladder the rescue team lowered
so she could come back out into the chaos of Soho.
Once in England, that same friend hit a few
orange cones during a stretch of construction, learning
to drive on the other side of the road. I’d chipped in
for the rental but was too afraid to take
the wheel. It was the first time we’d seen
a car with a sunroof and we stuck our heads out
for a picture, the opposite, I suppose,
of falling into holes. The worker didn’t ask
if I was OK. It was a few days after
my thirtieth birthday, and for a while
I had a double chin, as though my hands were full
and I was holding a plum between my face
and my neck. Now that I think about it,
there should have been yellow caution tape
around the hole, something more
than one lonely neon cone. At the time I just didn’t want
anyone to stare. I hurried on as though everything
was fine, even stopping for takeout
before I went home to empty
the ice trays into baggies to rest against my chin.
I didn’t call anyone—what was there to say?
I didn’t want to talk about the danger ahead.


My grandfather died during my sister’s and my accordion lesson in the storefront on North Main Street, so Mrs. Martin picked us up instead of my mother. She took us to Newport Creamery for butterscotch sundaes while my parents made the funeral arrangements.
                                                                                                                                                       Mrs. Martin told my sister and me not to cry. That one day we’d all be meeting up again in heaven. That my sister and I would be the entertainment, playing accordions for our deceased relatives. She said that when it came to humans, only Jesus could be resurrected—but putting a dead pet goldfish into the freezer might actually bring it back to life.


I helped her slip into her pink satin straightjacket
so she could better lounge on her canopy bed
without scratching her eyes. I’d eaten the last
of her potato chips—she’d resent me for this later,
but at the time I swear she’d insisted I have them. She amassed
china patterns they don’t make anymore, then washed each dinner plate
in the River of Runoff and Grief. She liked to watch
the dolphins in the Atlantic from her condo penthouse,
which was simply a Penthouse of the Mind.
Her respectable suitors came, each carrying a corsage.
The petals sloughed off, like commas coming to life.
I was more interested in the boys from juvenile detention,
the most beautiful boys of all, their nipples dimpling
and hardening in the cold. We were barely old enough then
to take on lovers. Why it seems like just yesterday I was all yeast
and the doctor said I should wear sensible cotton underpants.
When I got into money trouble, it was she who lent me
her pinking shears to cut up my credit cards. Now, I hear,
she’s collecting social security. She liked the sea
for its bubbles and foam, I for its froth and gurgles. I don’t talk
to her anymore, so I have no idea who she’s voting for.

Denise Duhamel is an associate professor at Florida International University. Her most recent books are Ka-Ching! (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009), Two and Two (Pittsburgh, 2005), Mille et un Sentiments (Firewheel, 2005); Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (Pittsburgh, 2001); The Star-Spangled Banner (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999); and Kinky (Orchises Press, 1997). A bilingual edition of her poems, Afortunada de mí (Lucky Me), translated into Spanish by Dagmar Buchholz and David Gonzalez, came out in 2008 with Bartleby Editores (Madrid.)

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Blogger Geofhuth said...

The humor in these is great. Invigorating, aided by the abetting of this crazy diversions always elsewhere. The poems move crabwise: everything is asides and digressions, though not quite. Then the suddenness of the poetic, just to jolt us:

The petals sloughed off, like commas coming to life.



12:01 PM  

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