One day, we’ll have it out
my demon and me
I’ll ask him if I’m really
so bad. He’ll tell me to
go fuck myself
then beckon, coyly
at me. I’ll be seduced like
I always am. Demons are
ugly and mean and rotten
but predictable and strong,
sometimes, in fairytales,
angels ask them for help,
and sometimes in country songs
a man plays the fiddle so well
even the devil himself gives it up–
but it’s not like that with me
and my demon. He says punch
I say, how hard?
But it’s so fast, these episodes
and I’m making it sound like some
dance when it is a car
accident, foot on the brakes
burnt rubber and all. If only I had looked
sooner, but my demon is ugly and mean
and cold and wants me dead.
Once, on a church trip, you left Massachussets for the sharp
West Virginia hills. Among the do-gooders, you fixed roofs.
Dug drainage ditches. Sang songs to the Lord.
You were not good. You whined out of your sleeping bag
mouthed the prayers. Stared at the Nashville girls
when you should have been thanking Jesus.
Those girls were experts at being good.
They crept to the bathroom at 5:30, emerged to pray
in full make-up, curled ponytails, ironed overalls.
One woman in your group woke early but sat outside, writing poems
while the mist rolled off the mountains. There was bile in your chest
when you saw those Nashville girls. Their lipstick bright as a sunset.
One day, you spied on them.
5:30 am steamed bathroom,
girls wrapped in towels, flip-flops slapped tiles.
They tapped plastic razors on the sink
passed the curling iron, traded
lipstick, eyeliner, even blush
laughed about how that boy couldn’t
hit a nail into a shingle right if his life depended on it.
Some say I’ve got a
boy’s spirit and when I’ve got a
woman in my hands
I still wonder
it’s OK to look at women like this
Kill a Dream, Save a Life
The student explained
how she destroyed
her dream of becoming
a doctor. She told herself
she would screw up at some point
and kill a patient. She could not
live with herself
………………….if she killed someone, even by accident, even
………………………….if her fellow doctors would cover it up for her.
So I killed my dream, she said. A little
bit every day. I killed my dream
& saved someone else’s life.
It is March and the sap
is on the move
buckets cling to the maples
blue lines snake through the forests
I stand in the sugar shack
with your father and brother
boiling, boiling, boiling,
country twang crackling
over the transistor radio.
We drink steaming syrup with whiskey,
talk about Obama and reverse osmosis machines
When the syrup beads off the spoon,
we fill jugs, trudge through the half-frozen mud
to the snow. Lay the jugs in a drift,
let it all cool down.
Monday at the Laundromat
Four good dryers
and seven pale orange monsters
………………..tee-shirts too hot to fold.
Twenty beige washers
only rinse in cold water
two fans, one wooden clock.
Man in a stained jacket
kicks his box of papers,
“Fucking mess! Fucking gas bills!”
…………………….layered on the walls
learn T’ai chi, yoga, guitar, flute.
Live with vegans and their pets.
Lost a cat. Found a dead cat and buried it.
he shouts again.
Where is his bag
The rest of us soak, rinse, spin
dry. Fold the garlic and smoke
out of our shirts and towels today.
Dryers spit socks onto wretched linoleum
week after week that floor
picks up and hangs onto our dirt.
A teacher once told me: inhale life, exhale poetry. I strive in my work to exhale poetry – whether it be something I overheard as a teenager in the bathroom, like in “Nashville Girls” or trying to understand psychological pain such as in “My Demon.” As a poet, I’m always interested in the ways people talk. How the phrases that stick out to me, such as a student telling me that she killed her dream or a man telling me I have a boy’s spirit, connect to other moments and experiences?
Penelope Gay Dane earned her MFA and PhD at Louisiana State University. She has taught at LSU, Hamilton College, and UC Davis. Currently, she works at the public library where she puts away the books that you return. Her work has been published in The Fem, Autostraddle, Apogee and in the anthology This Assignment is So Gay: LGBTIQ Writers on the Art of Teaching. She is a founding editor ofdys·regulate, a journal for and by the neurodiverse, the neuroqueer, and the dysregulating folks out there. She lives in Sacramento, CA where the stray cats let the squirrels run wild.