The Bottom Line

                  after Norman Dubie

Already, an internal catfight, to include, to not include
the lines from the poem this poem will presently
and blatantly rip-off— don’t, goes the voice of my teacher
poets will know, poets are smart, but I want the world
to hear this and know this and I am no longer afraid
to say that out loud, and bald, and lacking.
Poets are smart, but often, these days
ribboned off from a ribbonless world they then decorate
with ribbons from the vantage point of a tower— once ivory,
it’s probably now an imitation Georgian brick, possibly
a concrete wall of blocks placed one upon the other
with the artistry and care my grandmother used to separate
my tangled hair with a comb—easy, easy, she’d say,
and I never, not once, flinched.

It is hard to make a building not fall down.
It is hard to keep one standing up. It is hard to keep
the lights on, the floors clean, clean enough to keep you
coming back, scuffed enough that no one slips
and falls, hard to pay for that possible, lone bone
snapped and looming in the dreaded, murky
future, its premium, its compound nature, hard
to pay the suited men and women, figuring that nature away
behind the same thick walls that hide the poet
in his office with his beat-up Levis and his Scotch,
hide the janitor who knows just which keyhole
swallows each brass and singing key on his ring, knows
where to find those plastic yellow men who warn
that lovely woman—18, fresh-faced—take another route.
This is slippery. Who knows? Maybe she ends up facing
me that day: whole, unbroken, blinking as I try to learn
her name and stick it to her face: Wendy sewing a shadow
to Peter Pan. It is hard to lead twenty-five people

into open waters. It is hard to make them
jump in, know a new and sudden second life: another world
just beyond, a scrim that you can part when you are lucky,
when the stars align, or some such happy bullshit, like when you
hear the boy with the kinky hair and the ivory
bones beneath his dark black skin who told you, It’s Jamire, but
call me Loke, say, Yo, I just got chills
as you tell the class how Mrs. Whitimore, dying, a blue light
on her face, breasts, and arms, reading Melville to the one-room
schoolhouse of children on the farthest point of the peninsula,
lives also, now, in Moby Dick. At least for Norman Dubie. At least
for Loke, who, you’ll shortly learn, loves, like you, Biggy Smalls
and Isaac Newton. This is how we learn to breathe. To leave
the doors flung open. If the floors are wet or filthy, I will risk
the fall, or scrub them, walk with rags beneath my shoes.
If the lights go out, I’ll lecture in the dark. I’ll wait for the blue light.
If the bottom line isn’t life, then trust me—it is death. This poem
ends my silence. I am jumping into you. And you, if you have hung in
there, this long and far, well, now? You live inside this poem, too.

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About evanduyne

I'm assistant professor of writing at Stockton University, where I'm also affiliated faculty in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program. I work on Sylvia Plath, contingent faculty, and creative writing around trauma and domestic violence.
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