“Four Corners of Sunday,” by Ellen Welcker
I want to begin by saying that I was reading while getting my haircut. I know you are supposed to make small talk.
I had hoped to put some blue in there but she said, “you don’t want to end up looking like Ryan Lochte, do you?”
I confess that was valuable small talk.
It was a pleasant day that included sex and vacuuming. I held my son’s hand while he pooped. I ate blackberries.
The slugs were fat and white in the dark upheaval where the weeds had been.
Only briefly did I want to shove Legos under my fingernails.
She laughed when she saw what I was reading. “Does your husband make fun of you?” she asked.
In the backyard, a pile of red sparkly diarrhea, and the birdhouse the kids had decorated, licked clean.
Dogs are fools, and that’s why people feel such kinship with them.
It is worth noting that I talked to my neighbors. I often pretend I live miles from anyone.
Fruit flies began to multiply above the wet remains of food congealing in the sink.
Possible responses included, no, because he’s not a complete asshole.
I heard myself tell the story of what was whispered to the child for whom night was unfriendly. I loved it unabashedly once more.
But also, he doesn’t really know what I’m reading, ever.
Mom’s tired voice on the phone.
Auntie making an auntie joke, not funny.
I laughed out of habit, and wished I hadn’t. I knew they were heading to the funeral soon.
I used to wake in a wallpapered room.
It presented as polka dots, but was in fact, tulips — an army of them, locked in a tiny grid.
While I slept the tulips crept close as a cat that seeks to steal a baby’s breath. So near to my face upon waking that they blurred and I felt among them flattened as a sheaf of grass by dreams and the quilted weight of childhood.
The tulips, by contrast, surrounded me thickly. They were the more real.
To break the spell I would reach out slowly with a finger. When I touched the wall, I came into focus, the tulips flattening like wallpaper.
Maybe you’ve seen me, practicing my sleep moves.
Maybe you’ve heard my doctor say “you.”
See the older slip like a sheet between my sheets, osmotic as a feeling.
See now the younger crying mama mama mama cuddy up no stand up no hold you no lay down with me sleep here mama it’s cold.
There are gross crumbs in their bed.
Who would ever want to read this.
I want to be deep in some deep thing instead of deeply in debt pinkly squinting and sliding from coffee to sugar to wine.
It’s a long sleep, says 2. I’m hungry, says 5, that hole behind the rocking chair makes me — what, I interrupt, tired of excuses — the thing is, she says, there are holes everywhere, and the problem is, when I see one.
Body of my body gone gone gone but twined with mine these nights. O my feelings.
May I get anyone some water? Or massage your glands?
The night she slides in, cooing, I sleep with you all night; he wakes, yelling, it’s a long sleep I want breakfast!
My eye is inflamed. I am embarrassed to look at people. I perk up for sleep ads — sleep aids — but worry I’ll sleep through some little emergency or other.
You should go away and get some sleep, says a man.
And also call a dermatologist; there are irreparable things happening to your face.
My face agrees, and is also wounded by this.
I pour the milk.
This is a still life, with viewer as object.
The tonight is fact.
Under the blanket of which I did not go. With the performance artist.
Woman accused of sleeping with the entire Wu Tang Clan.
Woman pretending to be furniture.
I can see you are not damning.
As soon as possible will you give one, and hon — be a lot more fun and addicting.
Bring home a nickname tonight, like, One Who Tenderly Runs One’s Fingers Through Hair, Cootie-Free.
My bone screws are hurting. It’s sockeye to suckerpunch up in here and I don’t think you think I think this isn’t true.
Woman on the cover of Vogue wearing nothing but a strategically-placed platter of gourmet dessert gnats.
Woman who sold her lymph nodes to Warren Buffett.
Woman watching Mars rise low in the swampland dawn — or Venus, whichever.
Cold-caller extraordinaire. That voice.
Stalagmite, mirror, milliner with a secret stash of feathers grown from a petri dish in which the auger is the toe jam of a boss man.
Radiant as the splendid quetzal.
Not that this is not nullifyingly, defeatingly, negatingly, repeatingly, immediately available to all.
I soft-boil eggs in Nebraska. In Nebraska, noises come from my mouth. Every key has a fob in Nebraska, and Von Mauer exists in Nebraska.
Nebraska is as wide as I try to be helpful, padding softly through the condos of Nebraska. I wipe up a stain as old as my name. Oh, I love to creep along in Nebraska!
I’m reprimanded for my hair in Nebraska. I’m 40 years old in Nebraska. An official has the hiccups in Nebraska, and I stare at an ant in Nebraska.
The crops and the trees of Nebraska were planted by colonists in Nebraska. The women, the women in Nebraska — made of time and Borsheim’s in Nebraska.
Nebraska, our name means to carry a head with hands thick and bloody in Nebraska. I draw shapes of the pills and slide books from the shelves in secret, in secret Nebraska.
I water fake plants in Nebraska, eat the mints from the dish of Nebraska, I sit in the chairs of Nebraska, with the last of the men in Nebraska. I plan to count birds in Nebraska. I don’t count the birds of Nebraska. With a throb in my tailbone I stare at the mammals, televised mammals of Nebraska.
I have held index cards in Nebraska, in Nebraska, the quietest hospital. Purple berries exist in Nebraska, astringent, like the grief of Nebraska.
My beautiful aunt in Nebraska, near the rails-to-trails in Nebraska, the dead man’s hole in Nebraska, pulling a fast one on Nebraska.
The chins are up in Nebraska, like the ground beneath the mall of Nebraska, or the stone-faced dog of Nebraska or the tools on the counter of Nebraska.
There’s a Wal-Mart in every Nebraska, and a sound so stealthy and low, like a lung inflating in Nebraska or Nebraska just whispering “no.”
“May I get anyone some water? Or massage your glands?”
— Bhanu Kapil, Thinking Its Presence: The Racial Imaginary Conference, Missoula, MT, 2015.
Joanna Newsom sings about the “nullifying, defeating, negating, repeating” joy of life in her song “Divers.”
Ellen Welcker’s second collection of poems, Ram Hands, is just out from Scablands Books (section three of this essay appears as a poem in the book). Her first book, The Botanical Garden, was selected by Eleni Sikelianos for the 2009 Astrophil Poetry Prize (Astrophil, 2010). She lives in Spokane, WA.