Aspirations to Become the Starbucks Poet
Before my father died, I told him
I wanted to be the Starbucks poet.
He laughed and said
that was a sure way to go broke.
Though relatively uneducated, he knew
$3.35 for a Caffé Mocha is rather inflated.
I was 20, a junior in college
with caffeinated blood
and nicotine-caked lips.
He asked if I would spend the rest of my life
writing about sunsets and doves.
No, poetry isn’t like that anymore…
if it ever was.
“Great, now you won’t even get laid either.”
A poetry professor once told me that all poems have
a beginning, middle and end.
Did she mean birth, life and death?
Personally, I just wanted to sort words out
so they made a little bit of sense
when I scanned the page from left to right.
It became more complicated than I thought.
After my father died, I went through his things:
army fatigues, a stash of 120 one-hundred dollar bills,
his life savings all wrapped in silk and crisp from the mint,
stacks of religious books written in dead Chinese characters.
I was 21.
I took a summer course in Mandarin
to see if I could unlock the words.
The professor’s first lesson:
Read up and down and backwards.
I dropped after the second week,
the professor expected too much out of me,
the lone Asian in the class.
So, for a while, I visited as many different Starbucks as I could.
They were of all shapes and sizes,
but in their round logo, they all had the same green,
and the curvy chick.
Usually, I sat in a chair facing the bar.
It never ceased to amaze me
the amount of pretty young girls
willing to make my coffee to order.
Usually, I had the coffee of the day.
But, imagine a poetry book sitting on the shelves
with logo-clad mugs and baristas.
A marketing manager’s dream.
It’d make a killing,
and Valentine’s Day.
My father was a small-time farmer
who woke with roosters and the sun.
He lived with cracked hands and leathery skin,
and when I was born, he wanted
a doctor or a businessman for a son.
Instead, he got a small-time alcoholic
with undisciplined money management.
But when I’m at a bar, I can still spot a farmer:
the ones with dust on their shoes,
and they drink beer and liquor, “neat.”
They’re honest and they shoot pool straight.
For George Oppen
A stranger peeked in
Plath’s and Dickinson’s windows
late at night, and thought, “Man,
these are lassie rooms,” and laughed
alone. Yes, a woman’s room
is a girlie room,
and I hope men know that
the intelligent prostitute
will excite a man, a whore
not a girl reaching
for the headboard for balance,
while a boy lies beneath, laughing.
The Living Room
After a conversation with Barbara Hale
All my life
I’ve cleaned my house at night
when the cars have stopped running
and the crickets begin singing
Under the white bulb in the living room—
vacuuming cookie crumbs from the carpet and
dusting the dead television,
pressing feathers on broken speakers.
They’re not blown out; just faulty wiring.
Watching the red lips of the local anchorwoman
I’ve learned to read her quiet words.
Flat-cheeked, her round eyes
Are endlessly searching.
Eye to lips when I look up from TV dinners,
Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes,
we never make eye contact.
Gentle with the paintings
and pictures on the walls;
they hang with glass faces—
short nails in thin asbestos—
tempting gravity always:
Johnny—as a one-year-old baby—has red hair
no one in the family has.
He also has a rare smile and
tiny teeth that never knew cavities.
They fed him broccoli and Shanghai bok choy.
I didn’t know him.
He was older and died young for his time:
42. Heart attack.
“He was a fit 42,” I remember someone saying.
His legacy lives in this first house he bought
and didn’t have the heart to sell
even when he finally moved
to his estate in the hills.
I never liked that one.
The ceilings are too high, and
the maids and butler and cook hear everything.
Even when they were in their quarters,
I felt their ears listening
as grandmother told me she loved me only,
while watching me put the bears and dolls
back to their places on the shelves.
This first house is easier to keep:
three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen
and the living room.
The fireplace isn’t big
but watches the room and breathes warmth
to the occupants.
The master bedroom is the only room
big enough to fit a king-sized bed,
but most nights,
the three cushions of the living room’s couch hold me,
and loose change now and then.
The hardwood floor has been replaced once
when grandmother left the kitchen sink running
and locked herself out of the house.
There was little damage.
Johnny just wanted consistency.
The house is still a bit cold
from the years when no one,
lived in it.