Matt Dennison, Improvements

What Happens

Victor came from Columbia
from a very wealthy family
willing to lose their son
for a while that
he might
learn to speak English,
the language of business,
and return to even greater
success for family
and country.

But he missed his young wife
and baby daughter
so his family sent them over
to the shotgun apartment
next to mine.

And Victor learned English in the streets
and the bars and on the construction jobs
we shared.
But he had a very bad habit
of being beaten up
every couple of weeks
and leaving his wife alone
for days at a time

feeding the baby
less and less
in a foreign
country

until the wife and baby
were gone

and I don’t know what
happened

or ever
happens
next.

Just So

After playing with the idea
of simply sending a blank
piece of paper in the hope
of driving home the complete
death of his feelings for her,
he quickly typed out a one-page
letter, purposely omitting
her name at the top,
his at the bottom.

He read it once, grunted
with approval and sealed it
in an envelope which he placed
on the edge of his desk where
he would be sure to see it
in the morning, stood,
switched off the light,
walked to the other room,
turned off that light and
crawled into bed, drawing
his knees to his chest.

With a pillow under his head
and a pillow between his legs
he lay there, just so,
not opening his eyes.

Kindergarten Memoir

When I drew my rockets the lines were straight,
not like the other boys’—all wobbly soft
and surrounded by stupid stars. I was shocked
when I looked upon their work. Not having
the words, I took the hit of their mediocrity
straight on.

Sitting in a circle on the floor, our teacher
told us to close our eyes and tell her what
we saw. Many said, GARDENS! PUPPIES!
BRIGHT LIGHTS! I said: “Black, I see black,”
and shrugged off my wings forever. Told to draw
Jesus riding into town on a donkey, I realized
I did not know what Jesus or a donkey looked like
so I drew a hairy head sitting on a blob-thing
with legs. Then came the praise.

The only good time was nap time and the rough-haired
girl with one wall-eye and no other friends but me—
and me only at nap time. We would play peek-a-boo,
flipping our heads back and forth, nose to nose,
trying to catch the other looking while making
horrible, straining faces and just dying to scream
as the others slept.

That and playing in the school yard—
hugging the red ball and running and running
and no one able to catch me at all.

Improvements

Of course I don’t
remember the poem,
but in the fourth grade
I knew it was a lie
I was being forced
to read aloud and
when I finished
and looked around
I knew the others
didn’t.

Real stories
don’t stay where
they should because
it’s nice where it’s nice
to be nice all the time.
Even I knew that
even then.

Fifth grade:
another poem.
This time I made
changes as I read,
improvements:
left out words,
added words,
spiced it up.

(Pierre died after robbing
all the other squirrels
and kissing Paula,
the lady squirrel
and all the kids cheered
as I walked back
to my seat.)

And it wasn’t that I had changed,
but I noticed the teacher never
liked me quite as much
or ever called on me
again to read.

She knew I knew.

Magazine Street

She screamed as you know all night long
and banged on the wall and I’m sorry
it’s your wall but it’s my wall too,
stained where my hands have rested.
Across the wall I’m sure you got
the wrong impression but I never laid
a hand, though she was crazy deaf
from twenty years in the bed and it’s
the meanness that outlasts us all.
I imagine your wall don’t hold as much
slack grey hate as my rot-paper wall
has swallowed through the years while I lay
in the dark asking Can I take it no longer?
only rousing to put my hand to the skillet
with the same old grease, the same old flour,
and wonder at the price and worth of endurance
with none left to grieve our going—but isn’t it
lovely to have finally met? The funeral’s Tuesday.
What’s left will be quiet.

After a rather extended and varied second childhood in New Orleans, Matt Dennison’s work has appeared in Rattle, Bayou Magazine, Redivider, Natural Bridge, The Spoon River Poetry Review, and Cider Press Review, among others. He has also made short films with Michael Dickes, Swoon, Marie Craven and Jutta Pryor.

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