Mudlark Flash No. 50 (2009)

Five Poems by Michael Tyrell

Manhattan-Beach Mother | Superstition, Inc.
Murder in Sea Gate | Instructions | Flatlands

Michael Tyrell’s poems have appeared in Agni, The Canary, fogged clarity, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Yale Review, and other magazines. With Julia Spicher Kasdorf, he edited the anthology Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn (NYU Press, 2007).

Manhattan-Beach Mother

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us
that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities
of darkness.   — Nabokov, Speak, Memory
The woman on the subway platform this morning, 
clutching sonogram snapshots  
of her not-yet-born— 
she didn’t flinch at that one image that slipped through her  
grasp and fluttered to the tracks, 
she didn’t notice or care, she was running somewhere— 
and the image was not blown away  
as you or I wanted it to be blown away, 
and the woman made her transfer, 
trimesters still ahead of her. 
We didn’t make the closing doors 
and didn’t want to look down at the tracks, 
so we checked out the defaced ads— 
life can be as inspiring USELESS as your dreams. 
No one dies a virgin. Death fucks you in the end. 
A response: Don’t sound too bad to me. 
The clock had no pointers, but a cable dangled  
from it like a black tongue, maybe a souvenir 
from one of the dark eternities. Already 
we could feel the concrete trembling, 
and if Nabokov was right, we stood up 
wide-eyed in our cradle and trembled together.

Superstition, Inc.

So I lose track. Galoshes dry on my table. 
Do I court sorrow by bringing old brooms into a new house?  

I’m just learning not to walk under ladders 
when the mirrors (meant to expand space) go to smithereens.  

The notice, the seven-year bitch, arrives in the mail.
I want a reprieve, but the voice menu of Superstition Inc. starves  me.

Their offices are somewhere in Gerritsen Beach.  
Like millions, I cannot get a human on the phone.  

I’m sorry, I don’t understand 
the omen you just entered. 

The letters on the annual eye-chart grow dimmer.	
I touch the orbits, the future hollows, there’s something to this—  

Belief has been part of my treatment, 
a game of love and love-not until  

a brittle stem, my person, remains. 
Like the semester’s dissections, all sutured.  

An incantation a movie taught me— 
a synonym for stupid or beautiful or miracle.  

A messenger slides his invitations 
under my door. Every day, he would bring   

calligraphy, the psychic inkings, leaves 
lashed to the vacant transom, my corner of peril  

where like the myopic streetwalker 
I rush to kiss whatever luck shows up.

Murder in Sea Gate

Where there are woods, green 
foliage now turns blonde. The telescoping  

corridor in the Hall of Justice 
is yellower and mustier than those leaves,  

and the unlooked-for trails to jury duty 
this time lead not to an exit door  

but only deeper into the leaden courthouse, 
where you’re picked as an alternate  

to hear the details of a murder in Sea Gate, 
rule if the Russian girl at the bottom of the stairs  

died at the hands of a vagrant 
or her husband. The material witnesses  

blame America—she was illegal 
and couldn’t seek help, even after  

he chased her once, with a can of Raid in his hand, 
through the Cyrillic cul de sacs of the gated community.   

The real jurors nod off; the evidence photos 
barely get winced at. Exhibit A is the ligature,  

a coaxial, and you think you won’t be able to tie on a scarf
for months, even when the single digits come; you won’t even watch TV. 

But the next morning, barely first frost, you can do what you thought
you couldn’t, wool smoking off your neck like the Little Prince,  

and walking into court you can almost forget that murderers 
are usually who we know, the weapons our own utilities,  

and the woods you’ve scribbled on a looseleaf page
seem nowhere in particular—scraggly trees, no life in them, not even a birdlike V.

The minute recess comes you swear 
the drawing will join all the other wastebasket mistakes, 

but still you wish you had color first to make a convincing failure,
something to show how foliage goes, just like that, from green to blonde. 


Opening a suitcase 
I always keep packed, with  
no particular destination 
in mind, because there is no destination:  

offers of credit, 
expiration dates  
as if they knew something I didn’t—  

the porn people 
who have defiantly stepped out of time 
by dropping bra and trou and raising their brilliant flags— 

cloudy plaid shirt 
somewhere underneath, too small for me 
when I button the front,  

no smudges, no frays, 
no ashes, no earth to earth, 
even spare buttons underneath 
if I lose a few, not many.  

I wore it to the office on 9/11.  
I think 
I’ve worn it since.  

Another country’s tag 
chafes the beginning of the spine—  

Gentle cycle only. Like colors.  
I haven’t followed these instructions.  

Small, pebbly lint in the breast 
pocket, not what you’re thinking. 
I wasn’t close enough for souvenirs.  

A Post-It scrap with a phone number, no name. 
From before or since, maybe, 
but not that day.  

A gum wrapper— 
did I dream of becoming a ruminant?  

Which pants did I wear, no jacket 
because it was mild, but 
which shoes, that survived the walk over the Queensboro Bridge?  

Nothing else I’m given access to. 
I put the shirt on. 
I button up. I get it wrong. I undo it and start over.  

Should I wear it only to bed, 
shred it to wipe the table or the oilcloth floors?  

It was too distant to be historical,  
too scarce to cover my eyes and ears. 
Even moths have chosen other meals.   

Objects can’t be ghosts— 
so goes the supernatural rule. 
They don’t get stories of their own; 
that’s what makes them dangerous.  

For so many nights we can tell ghost stories, 
my sister and I,  
but let us hear one gunshot in Bushwick, 
outside but way too close,  
and on go the invisible gags;  
so it seems. Speech becomes forbidden; 
even good night sounds like an evil wish. 


Too many worlds in this world. 
If you don’t know what I mean, sweetie,
you can stop reading immediately.
It’s round so we’re always 
slightly crooked, we beg it to stay flat 
with its comforting ugliness and danger, 
snow angels shat on by dogs,  
a baby too close to a window, 
and the six-day-a-week mailman  
inmating his little jails—servant of my 
debt and its loyal correspondents. 
Maybe a protection program exists, 
a reset identity and credit history, 
and just walking out my front door 
down the stoop to earth, or at least macadam, 
will show me how, where to apply. 
If only money were the whole of it—I exclude 
gallons of bad blood, tons of severed connections.  
Last words not so famous, but last and lasting. 
What about that renovation net  
that falls over the church across the street, 
where, suddenly, I can picture 
all the lost friends gathering inside? 
The net is not completely pulled over— 
in other words, it’s not a shroud, 
and the door might be unlocked. 
Could this be my big sweepstakes chance 
to decide which of those barnacles—
faces, addresses— 
to throw out or transform back into 
the monoliths of the past,  
turn them into grandiose manmade islands, 
add hills to the flatlands of Never Again 
and Don’t Look Back? As if  
space could, for once, second-guess time 
and I could persuade myself 
that what is forwarded will find the right hands 
and anyone who emerges from church 
emerges a believer.

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