173.1: Morgan Parker:: Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night & How To Piss in Public and Maintain Femininity & Book of Exodus 173

Morgan Parker’s poems are a glass not half full, but overfull, and we are invited to revel in the mess with her. “How to Piss in Public and Maintain Femininity” pours (if you’ll pardon the imagery) over its edges. The title spills into the first line, and the spill continues from there, a stream of unpunctuated, unfiltered thought. What speaks most to this reader is the blunt utterance spat out in the middle of a stream of observations and statements: “I am ashamed of my unconscious”; “I pretend things are simple but I do this / for your benefit.” This hit comes just as a reader may realize she’s talked to herself this way, each night in bed, waiting for the dream to come.

These poems might be worried about what you think of them if they weren’t already so anxious. Instead, their nerves make for a kind of verbal diarrhea of which we are so often guilty after a couple martinis or on a promising first date. They make the sorts of bold assertions we all wish we had the courage to make about ourselves sometimes. I-statements aren’t just examinations of identity, but also of insecurity and insurrection, of the mind’s eye and the I that acts. And in doing so, they imply something about us, too. Because the I opens up to us, because we see it so clearly and laid bare, any assertion it makes reflects back on us. Asks why we didn’t say it ourselves. Asks: What keeps you up at night? In what direction do your thoughts run over? S. Whitney Holmes

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night

for Ted Meyer

Today darling I am rising
from the lavender bathtub
of self-loathing. I don’t take drugs
to shut up I take off
my pants when I get home
and I stay there, red cup full
of cigarettes from heaven, ghosts
of all my friends between my toes.
I imagine them pouring vodka all over
each other wearing glitter.
The vision is closing in like a tight dress.
Meanwhile the moon
fills gray-green. The shops in the village are
leaking bodies. Spilt oil rolls over
cash like hands, some glorious bullshit.
What bothers me is the weight
of clouds under your fire escape, your
hand strange lines I feel
and can’t, one shared breath
of all the bulldogs in the park,
how I don’t notice an inch below
something wriggling in dark warmth
as if love or hunger never counted
and I was never meant to last. The nervous
breakdown doesn’t end.
It was only sleeping. And comes
back good and rested
smearing its eye boogers all over.
Says you’re an arrogant prick.
I say fuck you nervous breakdown.
It says open the curtains and look
down at all the people or
you may only share your bed with me.

I accidentally say OK.
When I can’t sleep I smoke
a dark cigarette and keep the curtains closed
so I can lose track of where I am
and who is here with me. I cut the faces
out of magazines and pile them
in the middle of my hardwood floor.
In the distance, that good old
rock n roll. This isn’t simple
if you want it to be. What my country
does for me is enter
me like a room, becomes the furniture,
the wall, the painting on the wall,
the white spot where painting used to sing.
Singing enters me, becomes the window.
Baby think of my skin
as the best part of the song. Take me
by the ribs and lay me at the bottom
of a dirty creek where I can
get a good view.

How To Piss in Public and Maintain Femininity

is the name of a course I am teaching now
in church gardens downtown and under SUVs
in LA after a club with a name I do not remember
just like Queens last night which was a trip so I walked
off the strangeness for over an hour before
I called you which I now know was ill-advised
but at the moment felt inevitable what with
the martinis and the way I want what I want
regardless of social etiquette and the way
I am ashamed of my unconscious by which I mean
I say everything out loud in other words
I never fucking learn my lesson

I am always thinking of sex and sleeping with
no room left in the bed I am always thinking
of sex or theorizing about sports and board games
and how they are the reason I am alone
a soldier always thinking of these differences
tiny birds line the sidewalk in front of my building or
someone comes into bed with me and we get
a good night’s sleep while the alarm clock
glows in another direction

Somewhere we are honest
I cry and it makes me sleepy
turns grass into a lighter shade of brown
the small difference between think and touch
black music is not a folk tale it is
a rounded coffee pot this morning
you are well versed in deceit
sometimes I forget I have tattoos
I pretend things are simple but I do this
for your benefit watch Nick suck
on the pit of an avocado as if
this is what we have been waiting for

when I think I hear wind chimes it is
only a car alarm when I say
I will write you it stands for something else
Matthew McConaughey is that you in
my bed but you are not singing
you understand there will be morning
there will be a silly war and I’m like
boy how did you get in my bed
and why aren’t you singing?

I remember everything especially
the way you never let me speak
what is off-key will wake me up in the morning
when I say I will write you
“you” represents something else and larger
in the morning I feel my stomach
I press into its edges and experiment with control
I wake up before I see who wins me back

The Book of Exodus


In this busted sailboat of a body,
I have never feared hovering sea fog.

I never stopped wandering in and out
of mouths, waving future in the air.


I am all the plagues at once: anxiety,
wine teeth, bad credit, general malaise.

Sometimes at a party I escape
to watch my lipstick fade in the bathroom mirror.


I rub my tongue until it bleeds. I become
a snake. I make you uncomfortable.

It becomes addicting
after a while. I get a taste for it.


Here I am presented in two parts:
a burning omen, a montage of flight.

I’m thinking glossy dream of highway, flowered
scarf trailing the dusty road of tribulation.


I’m thinking of taking a year off in Bali,
or whatever white folks are doing these days.

Going on a cleanse. Taking strange words fearlessly
into my pink mouth. Consider this my retirement.


Bitch heels for boat shoes I could curse
like a man making promises, write you

in stone with my finger. What is it
deserts are made of? Stomach aches? Desire?


I’m thinking of getting off this barstool, finding myself
well-stirred into another city’s night.

How something is moving between chapters
and years. Pairs of me merging nuclear.


How as a child the breeze smelled spicy
as rows of palm trees between thoughts.

If only my body could not contain, but be contained.
Maybe it was the day I learned to migrate.


The space where my belly should have been
was filled with mayonnaise and white carnations.

I thunder mountain peaks in sleep.
My soul’s so old it’s shivering.