Making a Stink
Dumpsters next door overflow with plastic bags,
giant marshmallows for giant rodents.
Call the mayor’s hotline and wait your turn,
add your name to the busy list. Eloquence counts
for shit. Torn plastic, scattered trash. A neighbor
zooms in, documenting his continuous rage.
What came first, the dealers or users?
Take a number. Plunk your money down.
Tape that number to your forehead. Explain
the specific nature of your nature. Bark
your three minutes into the microphone.
Windshield glass sparkles into street diamonds.
We’re all rich, fucking rich! In the larger scheme
of things, is there no scheme untinted, untainted?
I scheme, you scheme we all scheme!
Vomit up pocket change. Wipe your chin
with a crisp dollar bill. The building inspector
doodles on his pad, chats up the slumlord.
In a car, an envelope changes hands.
Nothing stops the U. S. male. Rodents watch
from weeds, eyes no beadier than ours.
They have a little chuckle. Cleanliness is next
to crack, and crack’s kicking its ass.
At city council, a light blinks red when you have
ten seconds. Finish up before they cut the mike.
Thank them for their time. Blow them a kiss-off.
I’m building a dumpster snow globe with tiny trash
and tinier rats. Wind it up, and it emits the concentrated
stench of despair. I shouldn’t shake it, but I will.
Postcard, AIDS, 1989
We arrived out of nowhere —
or, actually, fog —
on our bicycles at her villa
in Connemara, a dubious link
on a crimped chain of friends
and relatives. Semi-famous,
with her absent husband,
famous famous, back
in New York making others
laugh. She was semi-happy
to meet us, to let us spend
the night, one night.
Her other guest, a gaunt
composer with straggly
beard, didn’t have to
tell us he had AIDS.
Its shadow hung over him
like a dank, smutty cloak.
We talked books and ideas
over red wine and a chicken
killed that morning.
He excused himself
with the soft tissue of his voice.
No dancing tonight, he said,
some inside joke.
Though it is true
none of us danced.
Cool and damp against
those old stones
with their new poison.
He was trying, she said,
to finish something.
I had no idea until he arrived.
She apologized for the peacock
squawk in the yard. A bad idea,
she said. She’d started with two —
now one was too many.
You could get lost
in that house, and we did.
He could stay as long as he wanted
or could. No escaping it
even in remote Ireland. She sighed
then made a familiar comment
about dreams, and then something
in French. Back in New York,
her husband was busy attending
funerals and the dying.
Her hard-backed chairs groaned
against stone when she excused herself
with no excuse, leaving us alone
in the ache of cold coffee.
We who had yet to lose anyone,
the young couple who showed up
at the dark castle.
The screeched moan
of the lone peacock
kept us up, as promised.
Jim Daniels’ next books of poems, Rowing Inland, Wayne State University Press,
and Street Calligraphy, Steel Toe Books, will both be published in 2017. His fifth book of short fiction, Eight Mile High, was published by Michigan State University Press in 2014. “The End of Blessings,” the fourth short film he has written and produced, appeared in numerous film festivals in 2016. A native of Detroit, Daniels is a graduate of Alma College and Bowling Green State University. He is the Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.