Saturday, July 29, 2017



1516 North

All the paisans know a guy and all
the paisans remember when
and everyone’s open secret threads through
the Viagra Triangle, wedged in
the crotch of Old Town and the Gold Coast,
where eyebrows-up Indianans hunker down
with hangers on still mocking the hippies
who cleared out forty-five years ago.
No one’s actually played that triangle
since around the time Miss Prentiss
with her kind smile and her flats and no time
to teach you how to make a diamond
quit to get married. I’m sure you’re right
she must’ve lost her looks, like you.
If she came down here like you she’d have to
buy half a dozen drinks for the Gold Coast
boob jobs just to get a grin, do a thousand
words for no action, even though it’s late
Sunday night and the bar’s closing
and Tony’s smile’s gone blank and the hostess
who’s bland as a kindergarten teacher
is banging dishes and turning off TVs
and turning up lights and turning locks
and gazing past the bar like a skinny gorilla
picturing life beyond one glass or another.
But kindergarten Miss didn’t give a shit
in a different way from the not giving
going on around here. This not
puts out the lights before you’re through,
and no one’ll remember you were there.

Urgent Questions of Autumn Leaves

I shiver and cringe before the blow. And you?
Do you blush, bruise, or ripen
after your flowers and fruits have gone?

Are you wielding this autumn light
or does it slam into you and bounce away?
Is your shimmer a shimmy, a whisper, a sigh?

Are you liberated or amputated by the weight of rain?
That spin and flutter—capitulation or surrender?
Panic or dance or panic and dance?

I want to think you jostle for a breeze. Fling yourself
into a good clean kick. Cackle at the satisfying crunch of chaos,
the breaking apart of your old dead bones. Maybe not.

Maybe you’re dismayed to be popular now
with slugs. Do you despise their worrying wriggles
or do you find a home at last? Is this ground zero

or ground of being? Are you going or letting go?
If I stay and watch you ride the wind,
Will you whisper to me the way?

The Night

Cold slaps on again like latex­­, another blizzard
scours the pigeon-cote sky. Sickroom blue gone ashen
shivers down from dirty rafters­. Particulates
split, drift, sparkle on our kids’ extended tongues.
Poison, yes—but how can we confess, this moment
a glimmer of ghost dance for the ripening days
grandma packed us all in a taxi to pick mulberries
growing in the prairie she called her friend's backyard.
Even then, we cabbed it. No skipping, traipsing,
gallivanting in pinafores through knee-high weeds
making pathways nobody had trod before: we were modern.
Took the nighttime shimmer of fireflies for granted.
Hammered ragged nail holes into the lids of mason jars.
Captured frogs and let ’em dry. Say, anyone here
seen a jumpfrog lately? Not the saucy poster frogs
making the circuit of nature museums, or the catalog frogs
you can order in bulk and slit open, belly to jaw.
Or the five-legged flukes, lunging and falling and lunging
sidelong in burning bogs. Not those, but the hearty bulls
who advertised their longing, who puffed up
and peed in your berry-stained hands—they’re gone
so suddenly—who’ll tongue and swallow the night?

Your Sleep

Tiny diamonds the droplets of sweat erupting 
on your forehead, the hairs of your neck. I’ve already curled them 
up into the cup of my tongue. Swallowed. Begun to bleed.
I thought I bought—turns out you can ask for what you want
but you always buy something else. Who funds this stuff?
Where’s the profit in it? By which I guess I mean, why?

Sufis say it’s the wrong question, but it’s the one 
I’ve got, the single keyhole lock set firmly in the panel door 
I drag along my bumpy life, banging it out 
against my spine, jerking my shoulder sockets 
out of place. Hanging on to the knob with one hand 
because it curves in my palm like a clue. I know 
there are locks galore and some of ’em twist easily 
in the hand. But why reminds me of doors I remember, 
doors that seemed to swing open into rooms. If I’d planned 
for this I might’ve packed my pockets full of rubber doorstops. 
Let ’em bulge suggestively against me in the rhythm of my gait. 
Caused a sensation. Anyway this door’s not exactly shut.  
I can prop its expert panels against one extruding surface 
after another, stand back and consider calmly, peek warily around 
in search of a skeleton key. Though I find only phantoms and bones 
strung up in the corner of a codger’s classroom, the very sticks 
clambering bit by bit out of  you. 

You know, diamonds are crystals. Like salt. 
Like the salt in sweat. Like the pillar of salt collecting 
in my gut, curdling me unwary and unwanted 
on the cabbage I was born to crave. Maybe a secret 
was in the hinge swinging open and shut. The light 
beckoning, receding, reappearing. The sense I once had 
that nothing is lost. But the hinges are lost. And I stay,
defining madness, because what else is there—


Sheri Reda is a writer, editor, and performer who makes her living writing and facilitating ceremonies, serving as a youth services librarian, and taking on other projects as they arise. A storyteller who performs her narrative work at live lit venues throughout the Midwest, Sheri also serves as a member of the narrative medicine committee at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital and contributes to programming at the Jung Center of Evanston, Illinois. Her chapbook of political poems, entitled Stubborn, was published in 2017 by Moria Press.

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