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Alison Luterman

Earthquakes

So many so small go on day and night
under your feet you barely notice.

A big bang sounds like someone in the upstairs apartment
knocking over their refrigerator, and you ask,

Why knock over your refrigerator?
while friends turn pale and head for the doorjambs.

No, no, it's just some guy
going ape-shit in his kitchen, you insist.

Maybe he's drunk. You're so good at making up explanations,
you miss the moments things shift

for real, red tulips beginning to wilt in their vase,
their lipstick mouths puckering like dowagers,

or the way a marriage curdles like milk left out too long.
You're standing on sand,

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On Not Flying To Hawaii

I could be the waitress
in the airport restaurant
full of tired cigarette smoke and unseeing tourists.
I could turn into the never-noticed landscape
hanging identically in all the booths
or the customer behind the Chronicle
who has been giving advice about stock portfolios for forty years.
I could be his mortal weariness,
his discarded sports section, his smoldering ashtray.
I could be the 70-year-old woman who has never seen Hawaii,
touching her red lipstick and sprayed hair.
I could enter the linen dress
that poofs around her body like a bridesmaid,
or become her gay son
sitting opposite her, stirring another sugar
into his coffee for lack of something true to say.
I could be the reincarnated soul of the composer
of the Muzak that plays relentlessly overhead,
or the factory worker who wove this fake Oriental carpet,
or the hushed shoes of the busboy.

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Invisible Work

Because no one could ever praise me enough,
because I don't mean these poems only
but the unseen
unbelievable effort it takes to live
the life that goes on between them,
I think all the time about invisible work.
About the young mother on Welfare
I interviewed years ago,
who said, "It's hard.
You bring him to the park,
run rings around yourself keeping him safe,
cut hot dogs into bite-sized pieces fro dinner,
and there's no one
to say what a good job you're doing,
how you were patient and loving
for the thousandth time even though you had a headache."
And I, who am used to feeling sorry for myself
because I am lonely,
when all the while,
as the Chippewa poem says, I am being carried

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Looking for Work

Consider the pigeons of the city,
how in their filthy swoop and dive they fatten
on dusty Dorito crumbs;
consider their evolution
through generations of squawk and squalor,
peck and fight. (And what did it take for that one,
strutting his kingly amethyst ruff,
his neck sheen of subdued emerald,
his fat gray feathers of survival,
to survive here?)

Consider the homeless man outside Albertson's,
approaching every car with his rags and Windex,
whose far-distant ancestor
was able to track and kill
the wildebeest, the antelope, and the cape hare.
Consider how far he has come,
listening to his ipod between customers,
and yet how faithful he stays to the wild
dictates of seek and hunt and gather,

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Because Even the Word Obstacle is an Obstacle

Try to love everything that gets in your way:
the Chinese women in flowered bathing caps
murmuring together in Mandarin, doing leg exercises in your lane
while you execute thirty-six furious laps,
one for every item on your to-do list.
The heavy-bellied man who goes thrashing through the water
like a horse with a harpoon stuck in its side,
whose breathless tsunamis rock you from your course.
Teachers all. Learn to be small
and swim through obstacles like a minnow
without grudges or memory. Dart
toward your goal, sperm to egg. Thinking Obstacle
is another obstacle. Try to love the teenage girl
idly lounging against the ladder, showing off her new tattoo:
Cette vie est la mienne, This life is mine,
in thick blue-black letters on her ivory instep.
Be glad shell have that to look at all her life,
and keep going, keep going. Swim by an uncle
in the lane next to yours who is teaching his nephew
how to hold his breath underwater,

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Sidewalk Story

The afternoon had a flu-like quality, gray and threatening to burst into tears at any moment, but I held it together like a grown-up, taught my classes, smiled at the children. I was in love with one little boy who couldn't write, not one idea in his head despite my encouraging crouch near his desk so long my knees were stiff and rising I almost passed out.

The sky drained of color but plenty of gray light. The teachers nodded sympathetically and said That flu is horrible go home, get some rest.

On the sidewalk thronged the children like little commuters, with their plastic slickers and empty lunch boxes, waiting for their mothers to come pick them up in big shiny minivans. I tottered into poisonous air, head aching with flu, ears ringing with the fever of five hours teaching, saying 'Good! Good! That's great, that's wonderful,' in a high sincere voice.

The children are so smart, I can't take it sometimes.
The way some of them will turn and look straight through me

Then I noticed the girl on the sidewalk, face the color of skimmed milk, ginger hair limp and straight, cut hopelessly to the chin. A small sad storybook of a second-grader, trying to evade her oppressor who in this case was wearing a puffy pink ski jacket and tormenting grin. The bigger girl walked backward blocking the small one from wherever it was she wanted to go. The little victim tried to get around her,

couldn't; tried, couldn't, dodged,
head down, resigned,

the only object now being not to let anyone see me cry. It was myself of course. I stood rooted next to my foggy car, keys in hand, smelling the wet asphalt. Oh that tragically trembling chin! How did I get to be middle-aged, delirious from teaching these children for years, coaxing them to flower into the brutally onrushing future, into the mystery of their fates where poetry may or may not help them?

Then I remembered

and stepped forward.
Took her hand,

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Sustain

1.
My love plays piano and his foot hovers above the pedal.
Sustain, they call it when the note floats
like a basketball player suspended in air,
or a question whose purpose is to remain unanswered.
Theres only this low keening urgency,
the sound of mourning doves,
drone and descant, murmur and coo.
I am learning to rest inside the word enough
its rough leathery consonants, its f of finitude.

2.
To bear up under
pain, or the memory of pain
repeating itself, like scales, as if we were practicing
to never do again what
of course we will do again

3.
I love you

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