Three Poems from The Bad Guys
I found them on the bathroom floor
after my cousin and her boyfriend
left for Ithaca. They were green
with gold stripes and they weren’t
mine. I stood there for a long time
considering them. They weren’t
dirty but they weren’t exactly clean
either. They were unwashed.
But they weren’t unclean the way
a dead bird is unclean, or the way
an unsanctified thing or an unholy thing
is unclean. I picked them up, and did I
smell them? I want to say I smelled them.
I may have smelled them because
they weren’t unclean and they were undoubtedly
my cousin’s boyfriend’s and he is a good man,
not a holy man but a good man with a good
job in Ithaca, New York and an excellent beard.
Of course I thought about returning them,
sending them back in a mailer or small brown box,
and I thought about washing them,
though they weren’t mine and they weren’t
unclean, only unwashed, and they weren’t
sexy, only colorful. They were more colorful
than all of my underpants put together.
You will want to know I am wearing them
as I write this. Much time has elapsed
since that day in the bathroom. My cousin
and her boyfriend have gotten married.
I have gotten married myself. My wife
has no idea about the provenance
of the green underpants. She thinks they are mine.
She washes them with my underpants
and her underpants, and she puts them all
in a sweet-smelling pile on top of the dresser.
I think there is something a little holy
about a pile of clean underpants on top of a dresser.
I think that putting them away in a drawer
would be like putting your light under a bushel,
or like locking a bird up in a cage,
or like packing up a good green thing
in a small brown box
and sending it far, far away from you.
The Only Question
She was very beautiful.
Beautiful in the way of
certain sudden realizations,
like: My god, is it raining?
or: Look how huge the moon!
She was at the poetry reading.
My poetry reading. Just one among
many pretty undergraduates
until the Q&A. That was when
she raised her hand in the third row
and asked me: "What inspires you?"
What I should have said was:
"Beauty. Beauty inspires me."
And left it at that. And let
the awkward silence speak
for itself while I stared at her
from up at the podium for perhaps
a whole minute, ignoring
the chair of the English Department
clearing his throat, the few diffuse
titters filling the room, the enormous
moon filling the big picture
window as my drenched gaze
fell on her, steadily, like a fine summer
rain falling on the second seat
in the third row. But what I said
a little dryly, was: "Literature. Great
literature inspires me." And she looked
away. And hers was the only question.
A suicide bomber isn’t born a suicide bomber.
He wasn’t a suicide bomber in elementary school
when he drew a spiky, yellow, exploding sun
above a little town between two green hills
and gave it to the teacher, and the teacher smiled.
On the day the suicide bomber was born
his father danced through the market from stall
to stall, singing the good news out until
the spiky, yellow, exploding sun went down
over the little town, and by then all the people
in the houses huddled between two green hills
had heard of the birth of the suicide bomber
who wasn’t a suicide bomber at all, at all.
He was never in his life what you would call
a suicide bomber. He was his father’s son
till that day in the market, the people and animals
splattering like so many fruits and vegetables—
That was the day the suicide bomber was born.
An exploding sun. Like millions of exploding suns.