Four Poems by Gregory Lawless

The Apartment

The people who live below me, I can hear them laughing, clinking glasses, fighting, getting ice.

You don’t listen, says the she-voice. And the he-voice grunts back.

Then a door closing, a radio switching on: Paganini, Brahms, or Bach.

They never say each other’s names.

Their mailbox is blank, except for a peeling number 3.

Who lives there? I ask the mailman.

The fuck do you care? He spits. Stuffing in the bills.

The he stares at me for a while.

The mailman cannot be trusted.

The things he touches. The pepper spray, his mustache going gray. How can you look him in the eye?

How can you trust a stranger who knows right where you live?

What if someday he doesn’t leave?

I’m sorry about these questions, but they’re all I have.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

People Need to Talk Less on Planes

Because all they say is
I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die,
or at least that’s what I hear
until cocktail number three
when I can finally
enjoy the Captain’s sultry whispers
over the loudspeakers, all scratch
and pleasure, and I imagine him
looking pleased up there
in his glittering cockpit
thinking the sky
is my cologne, or
hey, those clouds look snappy,
while back here
I watch the flight attendant
blow kisses into the yellow
nozzle of her flotation
thingy and point gingerly
at the doors
that let in the sea
in case of an emergency.
Then I plug in my headset
and watch the in-flight movie
called We’re all gonna die
on the overhead TV
and the actor playing me
is me, and he’s pretty good
at sitting very still and then
screaming. I’m not that good
at going five-hundred
miles an hour and even
worse at dying
that way, and if I ever die
that way, and if you never
get to meet me, just wad this
poem into a ball
that looks like a little white brain
and light it on fire,
and throw it
as hard as you can
off the top of a building.
I’ll just be a slash
of flame and smoke
at that point, and if people see it
they’ll think what
you think: I was something
terrible happening,
and I was my whole
life, but, God willing, all
you will remember
is the burning.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Skin Cream

I’m standing in the middle of a supermarket.

Not in the middle exactly, since there are 16 aisles, but I’m in aisle 9, the health and beauty aisle, which is pretty close to the center of things.

There’s an age-defying skin cream there that I’ve watched three women pick up and look at before returning it to the shelf.

I pick it up and buy it without looking at it, since three women have looked at it already.

I go home and rub the skin cream into the fresh wrinkles around my eyes.

The cream burns a little as it works aways the folds.

I believe that I am a new person because of the burning, so I call my ex-wife around midnight and tell her I am not not the same man who left her, so many years ago.

(I am in the TV room watching reruns of Columbo, watching Peter Falk’s lazy eye wander in oracular directions, with the crooked ecstasy of divination.)

Meanwhile my ex-wife talks to me on the phone. She says that we’re still married, that she’s never been more in love, and that our children shimmer like lawn ornaments covered with sprinkler water.

When she hangs up I hear the faint plastic click of the phone landing in its dock, in the bedroom down the hall.

The label on the tub of cream says something about Japanese seaweed, but that is all.

I wonder about the women in the supermarket and my wife still groggy with night breath and dreams.

And my sleeping children, who I can barely remember. With black hair, or gold? What are their names again?

I hope they never grow old.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Neighbors

Dusk. Woodsmoke. Stones
gouged out of the east-
ern wall by late-March thaws
fell flat on this
bed of mint. I pick
them up now
and crush the white grubs
underneath with the blunt
tine of a rusty pitchfork
while I smoke. The brush fire
of thatch and sumac, and the odd
ash branch and wet birch
trunk, topples onto
barnyardgrass and toasts
it black. Manchester planes
needle toward Logan
in the almostdark. Across
the street the old woman
sits down on her front steps
and waits for her dog
to shit. They look so still,
drizzled nearly blue
with twilight.
Her gray hair brushed back
with great care. She doesn’t wave
and I don’t.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gregory Lawless Gregory Lawless

Gregory Lawless is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and author of I Thought I Was New Here (BlazeVOX Books). His work has either appeared in or is forthcoming from Artifice, Best of the Net 2007, Cider Press Review, The Cortland Review, Drunken Boat, Gulf Stream, The National Poetry Review, Sonora Review, Third Coast, Zoland Poetry and others. He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart. He lives in Waltham, Massachusetts with his wife, Jen, and his cat, Mr. Sparkles.

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