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Feature on LA Poetry Festival

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"The Man Who Delivers My Paper," "Shangri-la," "Death Rings Marilyn Monroe" are from In Danger copyright 1999 Suzanne Lummis. All rights reserved.

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Tamoxifen, the Side-Effect

How does the thin-furred doe, fox,
how does the cougar
run in the night chill — sting
in the air, cold banking
in from the east, East
Wind, massive female moon
lighting the frost-tipped leaves?
I have always wondered.
Fellow insomniac, Newton cat,
sits on the porch keeping
his eye on the road, that marbley
eye. His face wears a comfortable look.
Why isn't he cold? I am,
was, always, since my youth,
my extreme
youth, that shadowy
tunnel through snow leading
from the lodge door
up, to the surface of the knowable
world. Years later, “Oh it's part
of my ensemble,” I'd say, when
the host asked for my coat.
I have not changed but
The Change has come on me:
tropical blood storm, blanket
of furred heat rising from the skin. So
this late, sixty degrees
and falling, I rise
from the kitchen table, throw
open the door and leave you, not
forever — though the night hits me
like deep water I've dropped
suddenly into and find I can breathe.
I'm no romantic.
I never believed in a knowledge
borne only by women
till now. In the body's last
ungovernable flaring up before
scorching out, I walk for blocks
and the dark stays big enough
to cool off in, and the sky
with its burden of deep space,
its chilly secret of the infinite.
Back home you turn under
the bulb light
as if unpuzzling the puzzled air, man
who knows all the right questions.
I am the answer to one of them,
an answer like a house burning down.
Cold pavement, cold mauve-tinted air.
I know how the ferret can slip
over frozen ground, and the wolverine
and the wolverine's prey,
mid winter, mid
two a.m. hour, in the far
hills, stark
outskirt of fields.


Head of No Hair

By accident it fell, got
bumped, from the back trunk
as the spaceship left,
an extra one worn for less-
than-special occasions —
the informal head.
Beached here it's alien
now, even to itself.
But in fact, that's not true,
just something it made up.
Really, it's one
of you, but must get
into costume, a wig
or a hat, to seem human.
There's a push on to keep
it alive, with its curious brain; now
look what happened.
If it spots itself in a mirror
it gets bothered, pissed
off, so it's careful
to not. Well it knows
it's not pretty, not normal,
more poet than woman.
Oh well then, be that way,
it says, so what — more
and more like a thing
some seeker of grails might
find one night on
a stony heath, this vessel
locked and sealed between
naked ears. He'd peer,
wouldn't he, raise it
to the light, but oh
such far-off light
from that other one:
the stark, uncared for
head of the moon.


Short Poem Demanding Massive Social Action

I wake up, my cold is gone. Already
my cats are darting about with polite
expressions on their faces, pursuing
their humble lives.
The wine glasses from last night's party
rise from here, there, a sort
of shimmering in the room
like the presence of imagination.
Someone built these castles in the air
then couldn't break the spell.
Something hums with desire and possibility.
People, why keep blaming the world
when the world is this full?
Fling open your windows.
Throw out the old way of thinking.


The Man Who Delivers My Paper

In the half light, while one world
is tearing away from another,
he comes down the hall, laboriously,
as if knee-deep in water.

He leaves at my door the one
gift he can give:
the weather, stock reports,
the death of a stranger,
a child tossed into the rapids,
assassins, rumors,
rumblings in Santiago,
a woman who had one too many,
a man who missed by a hair.

He sets it down gently
as if it were a newborn
or a thing he made with his hands
like a bomb.

Something passes over my dreams
dropping its shadow.
He goes with a lighter step than before.
It's as if he's clearing his conscience.
With each paper he leaves
he grows sweeter, more pure.

When I open the door there it is —
indisputably mine.
I could nudge it with my foot
to another door, but what good would that do?
One way or the other
news keeps reaching me.
I could shut myself in, but my phone
would never stop ringing.
Voices would whisper their secrets,
their guilty desires.

So I take it in my hands,
unstring and read it,
my catalog of last night's crimes.
You see? Just when you think you've lost
the last of your innocence,
you lose more.


Shangri-la

In New York they think all of California
is like L.A. And they think everyone in L.A.
has a maid. And they don't believe you if you try
to tell them.
- Radio talk show caller


It's true, here we are all blonde,
even in the dark, on Mondays
or in slow traffic.

Even in our off-guard moments,
startled by a passer-by,
we are young.

Here we are all privileged,
even in our sleep. At night
the maids hover like sweetly

tranquilized angels over
the glazed or enameled surface
of things, purring clean clean. . .

It's all true. We girls sip lemon lime through a straw,
make love, Revlon our nails.
We take our long sleek legs out for a walk,
let them catch light.

When someone snaps, "Get real!“
it hurts us, actual pain like we've seen
in the news. So we throw beach robes
over our tans, and cruise down the boulevard
tossing Lifesavers into our mouths,
car radios singing am.

New York, is it true
that in the rest of the world it is winter?

Our state is a mosaic of blue pools
even the Mojave, and the palm trees
line up straight to the Sierra Nevadas.
And the surf comes down slow like
delirious laundry, even near Fresno.

New York, is it true that great cold
makes the bones ache as if broken?

We're sorry we can't be reached
by plane or bus, sorry one can't pull
even the tiniest thing out of a dream.
We're like the landscape inside
a plastic dome filled with water.

But turn us over, then upright.
See?
No snow falls.


Death Rings Marilyn Monroe

- On initial reports that she was found clutching a phone receiver


He was like all the others,
a heavy breather,
but when he called nothing rang.
She touched the receiver to her ear
and hear something like
hold me
or
let go.
She thought of telephone lines
crossing the city to the bruised
back streets where litter
drifts on the pavement,
old men shuffle to bed
in fourth class hotels.
She imagined the last
bar closed, the drunks
snoring in their only shoes,
but one man pressed
into a phone booth.
The night struck him
like a fork musicians use but
he makes no sound
now, dangling
from this wire to a star.

She imagined her body sunk
towards sleep,
***** the mystery
of an unhooked phone,
the way
***** it purrs.
Then she noticed her own phone. Now,
all ten numbers read zero.

Baring a satin sheet
she lay down,

the dark mouth at her ear —
her way out,

his way in.