winning the lottery
It’s a game everyone plays. In the night-
shift idle chatter, the smoke break grunting,
the conversation with perfect strangers.
When I ask can I get you anything
else? the woman, her face hewn with age, spits
yeah, how about tonight’s winning numbers.
She is a million sagging faces, every night’s rancid
voices and wilted jokes. Sometimes it’s yeah,
a million dollars. Sometimes it’s filthy. Sometimes
it gets big, sometimes you feel lucky, sometimes
it’s just the only easy thing to talk about.
But everyone does. The houses in the hills for their
mother, their brother, the waitress. The businesses
started. The cars, the diplomas, the debts
paid off. My lover says he’d sleep in a different city
every week, he’d never do laundry again.
We rock back on our heels, take another drag, whistle
under our breath, hum that damn song. Everyone’s
got their tell. It’s easy to talk about. It’s not complaining,
exactly. Everyone’s got an answer, even if they’d really
just blow it all on one house with too many rooms, or go
bankrupt playing high roller, or leave it all in the bank
and watch it for years, afraid it would bite. Everyone’s
played this game. I’ve never been good at it, in the way
I don’t have a lot of party tricks. A vast array
of magazine subscriptions, a near-infinite number of
french fries. The truth is, I can’t imagine what I’d buy.
The same things as everyone else, maybe—a new car,
a soothing lie. Everyone knows, when they play the game,
that money is an unstable element, and highly reactive.
That the things we actually want are embarrassingly
small. That a refrain that goes if I had about fifty more dollars
is not terribly catchy. That the one-in-a-million ticket
doesn’t buy the thing we all imagine on our smoke breaks,
the thing we try to imitate in our cheap suits, someone to tell us,
and mean it, that we’re safe, safe, safe
after the funeral
the weight of your body/ swollen
tight as a black eye/ settles against my
good clothes/ i thrum/ your sleep/
more useful /than anything I know
padding barefoot through your house/
to load the dishwasher/ and collect
the empties from the porch/ i will be
the only one awake/ for now
i draw the blossoming bruise
of you onto my lap/ greedy.
the last of the makeup rubs off
my cheek/ into the upholstered roses
the muscle of my memory
tightening/ around a handful
of other nights/ spent gathering
you up/ that we were little girls
together/ is a story i allow you
to tell me on bad nights/ to fill
the hush before your sleeping/
the not-chosen one still
here/ to rock you quiet/ my shameful
utility /to some ghost of you/
intact/ i will never be more to you
now/ than the heavy net
of my body/ cradling yours. i dream
of what it is like/ to go slack,
to be held/ like i hold you/
by a kind of stranger /as we are.
Our roommates are having rough sex again.
That’s what they call it
when he calls her a cunt and tells her he is going to kill her
and then they rearrange the furniture in their bedroom.
It is unclear whether any kind of intercourse follows.
Stoned one night, she tells me she thinks
that when you love a lot, you fight a lot.
That she can’t complain—he takes care of her.
She tells my boyfriend—and the cops—that’s how she likes it.
It’s kind of their thing.
A friend asks me once if we have a safe word.
I say our safe word is no, and stop,
and usually just “meh.” That I have never
really liked pretending. That I have always taken for granted
that loving someone strong enough
to throw me down and slide my big ass under him
doesn’t mean being afraid
to break a bottle of nail polish, or forget
the electric bill. That even if I ask someone
to climb on top of me and slap me over and over again,
I can expect that same person to hold me all night
while I eat ice cream about a lost job, that
I might bite down on his neck one night until he screams
and rub his shoulders all through the next
until he stops shaking over our unpaid rent.
That’s kind of our thing.
When her bruises and her stories
don’t quite match, we will have to learn
to put up with it, because it gets rough sometimes,
rents are rising, and there are so many things
in the city that will kill you so much faster,
and other people seem so much better at pretending.