Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 8 • Winter 2003 • Poetry

Excerpts of The Beautifully Worthless

Ali Liebegott

A thousand ways to be lost in this country --
good lost, bad lost -- people pushed by broom edges,
flicked by bristle tips into corners....

Who plots a way out, what kind of person has it in them
to stand before a mirror, straight-razor in hand
and cut the rut from their life as if it were a malignant
penny-shaped birthmark on the side of their neck?

After despair came, like a delivery boy to your door
every day for a week, and after you signed the clipboard
and reached for the package, he took your hand
and bent each finger back, until your hands were not hands,
but two sets of broken, crooked twigs...

who still has the strength to plan a breakout,
dig a tunnel with a spoon
tap on a cell wall at night, letter by letter
spelling out Rilke poems to encourage their comrades?
Who doesn't get found
is left unplucked from their stagnant life
like a penny in the dirt of a dustpan?

Who, when they find out their husband is having an affair,
can't hack the only plant in their yard to death with a shovel?

Who isn't interesting enough to help --
what forgotten woman sits in a lawn chair in her yard
with a can of soda pressed to her thigh, and the radio
blaring the death toll of Texans,
who were victims of a record heat wave?
Whose inner voice sits quiet like an obedient dog
and never says, go go go.


Five nights in a row, the sun going down, daytime's last breath,
each curve of a hundred-curve leaf sculpts itself black into the sky,

the half-lit wavering sun, like the electric company shutting
pieces of power off as unpaid bills pile up

first the outlet for the toaster, the lamp next to the bed
but the joke's on them, plenty of times I've loved without light.

Without light, I found you in my living room
next to the coat rack, back against the wall,
the hours dying slow around us, like poisoned mice,

my hands held your face, and your face, held your eyes,
and your eyes: small yellow-green places far away --
the light of a lamp on a desk
where someone sits desperately trying to decide something...

I wish I'd told you that night what I'd been wanting to for weeks
and I wish I'd told you what never occurred to me until now.

A thousand ways to fall in love
with a married woman in this country.

I did it while working at a restaurant.

Found myself collecting things to give her when she was single:

One. The losing racetrack ticket that had been on my kitchen table for a month.

Two. A line from a Nabokov story, mother sifting through
pictures of her son before his full-fledged mental illness:
Age six -- that was when he drew wonderful birds with human hands and feet, and
suffered from insomnia like a grown-up man.

Three. A star-shaped middle of what anise grows on
that I found on the stainless steel kitchen counter where I work.

Four. The reason why I picked the anise star up,
part flower, part starfish, part prehistoric spider,
driven to reach my hand out to wherever you were that day.

Five. The thousand places I can think of us together,
today at three-thirty and fifty-five degrees,
some spring slipped past the winter warden,
and I wanted to be driving, windows down, music blaring
and have a place on your neck that I've never seen,
turned towards the blurred buildings, the ugly shrubs,
the paint-chipped lampposts, your neck catching the light
of that bright winter afternoon.

Six. My hands flat on your belly, as if that smooth skin
was the glass side of an aquarium, and you could know

giant neon fish, I stood before them once the same way,
the tips of my sweaty fingers against the cold glass
wishing I could be in the tank without killing them,

the deep wish not to destroy wore the costume of a bird,
flew and flapped inside me, I felt it frenetic,
beat the sides and insides of me,

I wanted to heave my body against the door of time
against my own talent to ruin and devote my life
to nervously, wondrously, touching you.

Seven. This sentence:
Beginnings, endings, that's it whether we like it or not,
no one remembers the fiftieth time they fucked their lover,
unless it was the time she shoved six needles through my chest,
or the time I saw the bite mark bruise,
not my own, on her thigh.
Tell me the truth, how long until I find myself
throwing the dog's full bowl of water across the kitchen again,
because you moved on with your life and I stayed heavy-footed
in the linoleum, stupid, trying to resuscitate the broken mop.

After a month, would we want to back
unnoticed from each other into a crowd?

You think I fall in love all the time.

I should tell you the truth about something.
This week I asked three people to marry me.
You, my ex-girlfriend, and the librarian.

I know you're wondering why the librarian.

She found the book I'd been looking for forever.

When she emerged from a backroom with the book,
I cried, You're the big hero!
She blushed and waved her hands nervously in front of her,
no, no, she said and again I cried, my hero, my hero --
her shy hands resumed knitting an invisible sweater above her belly...
what she said next is why I wanted to marry her:
If you went to library school you would've known how to find the book too.

So how long do you think it would last with us, if from there
I saw myself licking the librarian's sweaty back in my bed
and giggling, You're the big hero, you're the big hero
as I fed her Gin Sling after Gin Sling
and had her tell me why she wanted to be a librarian,

I don't even know if she has a husband
because her hands were so balled up I couldn't see her ring finger.
What if I told you I wouldn't want to have an affair with her
unless she slurred and spilled her drink on the edge of my filthy bed,
or if it ever happened, that I licked the librarian's salty back,
I'd still call you afterwards the same night,
tell you to meet me for a drink somewhere,
in some smoky, lonely palace.


Once I only believed in beginnings,
my wishes were horses the richest man could never afford
my wishes were planets that never existed
my wishes were elements that refused to coincide,

I wanted to be virgin body against virgin body.

When I first loved, I loved like a lunatic
my socks embroidered with thorns and pine needles
the bottom of my lungs, tiny flight fires.

I wanted those days back even if I had to shove a gun
square into memory's temple and demand them

you will mourn the loss of lunatic love
whether or not you miss the lunatic or the lunatic misses you.

When the police dragged me to the mental hospital
part of me was happy.
Happy that a file somewhere said:
I'm so sad, I ended up here.
My proof.

Once I only knew how to show you dead things:

Mourning families who held the heavy stone in their bellies,
(the uncomfortable animal with no name)
and wander from room to room,

whole families were killed in devastating earthquakes,
in cars on slick roads at night
in the hands of love's imposter cousin
with firearms and hatchets
with police weapons,
with the his and her badges on the night stand.

Ali Liebegott has five chapbooks: The Daze of My Life, No Pink Bows, Live From The Rotten Apple, I'm A Lot More Stable Than I Used To Be, and The Beautifully Worthless. Excerpts from these, her novel The IHOP Papers, and her illustrated novel The Crumb People have appeared or are forthcoming in Solo, Bloom, Longshot, The Brooklyn Review, ARTlife, and many other journals and anthologies. In 1999, she received a Poetry Fellowship from New York Foundation For the Arts; and in 1997 and 1999, she toured the United States with Sister Spit's Ramblin' Road Show. All this said -- her favorite things in life are feeding ducks and teaching adults GED and ESL. She now lives in San Diego, California.

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