Author Archive: Erin Knowles Chapman

Body Scan at 41

October 2016

The more birthdays you have,
My dermatologist says, the more you’re going to see
The skin of me blooms like turning fruit.
I stand before him in my underwear,
Trying to keep the paper gown from falling off.
He lays another paper gown on the floor for me to stand on,
Chivalrous, I think, wakes up an old self
Who remembers the word special in reference to herself.
My other selves quickly tell her to go back to sleep
As he inspects my skin, dictating codes
To a young assistant who writes what he says in my chart.
He brings his little magnifying glass to the freckle above my left knee.
I tell him that’s always been there.
He interprets the freckle to the young assistant
In clinical language, what he finds doesn’t seem to concern him.
I’m given samples of a cream, told to avoid the sun.
Are you interested in our cosmetic services? No, I tell him.

In the bathroom, a poster asks,
“Are you a 1, a 2, or a 3?”
Near the 1, a woman’s face
One wrinkle between her eyes.
Beside the 2, two wrinkles.
The 3, three wrinkles.
In my car, listening to the news
I diagnose myself as a 5.
What lands between my eyes
Falls there like a boulder
Impacting once smooth water.

Advertisements

The Bottles Sing

I Love You, Erin
sing the bottles at the grocery store.

They wink at me from their Christmas tree,
sets off a little whir in my brain that’s familiar
like recognizing a former lover,
but not remembering his name right away.

Between quittin’ time and dinner’s ready,
I find myself dumb
before the beer display.  

It’s then I see Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg slowly rise up,
from beyond a mound of citrus. Behind the peach and orange rinds,
they reveal to me their droopy, love-filled eyes.

All I Want for Christmas plays.

Moving on, the Honey Baked Ham man offers me ham,
between his forefinger and thumb,
covered in a blue plastic glove.

But that Christmas-themed 6-pack of Newcastle in festive glass bottles
splits my second,
wants to overtake my basket,
is not Walt Whitman or Allen Ginsberg
exploring the possibilities of produce
beneath a halogen moon,
but my very own
liquid courage teacher,
salivates my orifices,
looms larger than interior voices,
promises the ahh … my kind wants, doesn’t want;
the wanting and not wanting collide in me like horror plot,
but no one at the grocery store crashes carts.

The bottles sing
I Love You, Erin    
until I pass them by
and then they hiss at me
as if they were shaken and dropped.

Next aisle, cereal. I splay my chin with my fingers like Andy Warhol,
contemplating variations on high fructose corn syrup.

The second that split a few stanzas ago mends itself like mercury
and the check-out woman delivers her genuine self, straight-up.
I can tell she’s a good woman who doesn’t run away.
And the bagger, O glorious existence, the bagger! speaks to me in eloquent enjambment,

My sister, he begins, is that you in your holy state of attention
desiring more than this America in your shopping cart?

He says,
May I help you with your bags to your car?

Glory and Wretch

“Life if glorious, but it is also wretched. It is both. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other … They go together.”   — Pema Chodron

A long married couple, resigned to one another’s opposing nature,
Glory and Wretch sway on a dance floor.
Groomsmen puff cigars underneath a half moon.
Bridesmaids massage their cheeks, sore from having smiled too much.
It is almost October. Louis Armstrong Oh-yeahs.
Glory and Wretch finish their dance
At the wedding reception of a very young couple.
Glory captivates as she steps off the floor,
Slides her milky palm into Wretch’s rope-rough hand.
He wanted to go home before the ceremony began;
He’s seen this all before, a common reception hall
Where separate wedding parties bleed their amplifications through thin room dividers;
He curses the whole rotten show, damned if you do, or don’t   Anyway you look at it
I
t’s a burial, and then oblivion. The bride barely notices him,
Wonders the secret to Glory’s endurance …
How she’s come to life for the occasion, kisses bride and groom on the forehead,
Leaves a lip print that smells of spice cake.
Wretch aggressively pumps the groom’s hand.
Arm in arm, Glory and Wretch step into their own midnight –
She replays the moments from the ceremony that conveyed heart-felt emotion.
He regrets zeroes scrawled onto their gift check.
Their silence grows spongy in blue glow of a Trail Blazer.
His breath shoots out of his nostrils like an instigated bull.
Her whale eye superimposes onto the window
Against a swell of intermittent city stars …

me off of sugar


img_0984

butter pecan, maple glaze, sweet, but not too sweet, apple cake, honey pour, cup of light brown sugar leveled with a butter knife, blend of dough,
no such thing as too many chocolate chocolate chips, fresh maple syrup,
pancake drip, a baker’s dozen, oatmeal raisin, fresh hot doughnuts,
cinnamon rolls with thick white icing, cupcakes from a box mix,
Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, frosting left to warm on the counter,
spoonfuls of peanut, almond, cashew butter, whipped cream,
strawberry shortcake, pumpkin muffins, Halloween candy
dibs on everything chocolate or sour, warm apple pie
a la mode, crepes drizzled with Nutella and powdered sugar,
Cadbury eggs, cheese strudel, 
hot, sugared coffee, ice cream scoops
on a sugar cone, Moose Tracks, Peanut Butter Chocolate Swirl,
sundaes topped with caramel, a cherry on top, yellow cake,
fudge icing, strawberry rhubarb jam spread
onto warm toast, bread pudding, Hershey Kiss pressed
into the warm peanut butter cookie, Godiva on my tongue …

I’ve never been without
the sweetness
my tooth calls for.
A month now,
craving confections,
life’s only delivery method
for what makes
the coming and going
worthwhile.
To refuse
feels like
I’m missing out on
high stakes good times.

I’ve always had my eye on
what’s around the corner:
dessert sailing
its saccharine aromas,
a substitute nurturer
who tosses me up high
and then lets me fall to the floor
a lot like love.

Job Ad in the Afterlife

Has-been
wanted
to be
no one
and everything
all the same.
This position assists
with the day-to-day operations
of the Infinite.
Requirements include
a demonstrated aptitude
for butting up against
the cold, hard ground.
Must be formed of stardust.
Must have breathed your last,
certification as
sacrificial lamb welcome, but
not necessary
Dissolving as ash into atmosphere a plus!
Utter and complete bafflement preferred.
100% relocation compensation,
irrelevant sick and vacation leave policies,
opportunities to haunt.
The out-of-body
need only
apply. The Afterlife is
an equal opportunity employer.

The Tarantula

img_1371

I.

When I talk about my fascination with tarantulas,
people usually say,
“Don’t get one. What if it got out?”

Conversations begin innocently enough,
but no one thinks it’s funny when
I tell them I was 3 yrs old, living in a trailer park
in Downriver Detroit, visiting a wheelchair bound Vietnam vet
who kept a tarantula acquarium in his double-wide.

I read that people are more afraid of spiders than they are of death.
An average of three per year creep down our throats as we sleep.
What if it got out? Crawled on me as I slept,
lodged its coarse hairs into my neck, bit one of my cats?

I’m not really going to buy
a Chilean Rose, but I found a dry aquarium
in the alley behind my apartment building
along side Thursday’s trash.

An open box of glass ideal for my pet
if I ever carried him from
the things I only talk about
into that other world,
the one where the living require something of me.  

II.

I’m loosing it,
falling between the spaces of the Mackinaw Bridge
like a casualty she’ll hear about on the news,
ruining my body
out of panic or boredom or neurosis or addiction,
neither wife nor mother, no one to be,
a future job for an engraver of stone,
having called forth
the tarantulas of Downriver
to gape at their silent captivity.

III.

The man I’m in love with will knock on my door within the hour.

He’s heard me tell people
that I think about owning my own pet tarantula.
He laughs and says, not the tarantula thing again.

But I wonder if he, or anyone I talk with about tarantulas,
have ever really looked at one, creeping across
the miniature valleys of its arid cage;
its large, hairy legs gripping gracefully,
its bulging body almost invites touch.

I met a Rastafarian one night who kept one in his blunt smoke flat.

“She’s deep,” he told his dreadlocked comrade.

On a web of silk, white as hair,
his tarantula perched its claws.
No one else ogled its hairy appendages.
They spoke the non-silence of alone togetherness.

I could have peered at the spider until dawn,
wondering if my mother was four trailers down,
searching for me.

2003

 

Enough Room

img_1358

When the discourse swings up overhead
Like circus acrobats,
Ooos and Aaas may be heard
From the seated audience.

Wanting to speak, but not speaking,
I twist a furrowed brow.
Acrobats perform their daredevil feats,
Complete with a satisfied bow.

Most of the seats are vacant,
But the ticketeer shouts, “There’s not enough room!”
My mind deliciously wanders
As my palm lifts to stifle a yawn.

Now, acrobats fling themselves
Skilled in their contradictory talents
Like falling until parallel
Or flying inside of a tent.

A few foreboding spectators
Uncrane their necks to the ground:
Below the adroit acrobats,
The fat lady coos the new elephant calf

And look! a fire juggler makes mouth masks
In the shadows, beside little people
Who bounce each other onto stilts,
As a caged lion dream-runs.

Better to catch that shock of light
When someone lifts the curtain, late to the show.
Follow that shine out, out, beyond the tent,
Passed the little people trying to be taller than they are.

 

 

Housecleaning

late-summer-fall-2016-045 

It’s the last thing I want to do
And yes, I like the place better when it’s done
But actually doing it wades far out
Beyond my lazy stretch, miles away from where I currently sit
In my green silk pajamas, doing funny voices
Of picture book characters for my 2 year old girl
Or flipping on a show for her;
The needle bounces at peak volume
As the tea kettle whistles again
And across a page, my hand scratches the tip of a pen.
Morning’s rays whip corners like a flashlight:
Cobwebs, pet hair, miniature dust-bunny-tumbleweeds come to a halt.
Smudged window panes tell on me.
I loop and scrawl my book.
Soprano puppets yammer on.
I dream the day when I’m alone,
Rich with solitude, in silence, rolling. But, also leery of that empty nest
For I whither if secluded for too long.
Unlike the dirt, the hair, the crumbs, the unidentifiable goo
That dares, 
Don’t erase me. What do I care?
I like who I am. I’ll make more.

Downriver Grocery Store

img_1099

Bounce the pothole parking lot
At Kroger’s, south of Detroit
Where chem-trails smear up overhead
Like rainbows that don’t disappear. Enter to a stench
Of stale beer, can crush
Spits out receipts for spare change.
Familiar onions. Over here a brand called Simple Truth.
How many specials on root vegetables have been
Brought a boil to my cast iron?
Degrees of abundance,
Cries the have-nots
Whose tears measure rivers verses oceans.
Still, the places we want are not the places we frequent.
Questions of pedigree regarding the cheeses
Gives you strange looks from the clerk who wheels
Boxes towering Better Made and Private Selection.
Sweetness in the aisles.
High fructose corn syrup and smiles.
The consolation for residing
In a pit of Michigan.
Good folks pushing rusty carts,
The salt below the demolition.

How Gorgeous! The Leaves 

img_1064

Arboreal ceilings tinged flame
They way they plunge
Or are plucked, delicately
By increasingly colder winds
Motion of tires on a busy road
Watch them sail up
And then see-saw back toward lawns, sidewalks
Strewn with thousands
Some large as two palms flapping a shadow bird
Others slight as a beetle belly
Slick and suctioned to the ground
And then, in dry weather, shrink and crumple

I like what intersections do to them
Jostled as in a child’s game
Soaring upward in a funnel when air or foot stir

I love the crinkling sounds they make
As their hooked edges scratch
Across the street

I mistook them for small birds dispersing a formation
While stopped at the light outside of the mall
Were they spruce leaves? Raining yellow
Dancing in the air like copper-hued wings
I smiled as my car accelerated
Leaves caressing steel and windshield
Before lifting up again

This cycle we expect
Yet, I’m struck new by every year
The aching loveliness of death, not
All death, not oozing, violent, horrific death, not
The slow rot of decrepitude, but
Leaf death! This grandiloquent wobble around our star

This must be how it feels to be inside of a painting
Spectrum of reds and rusty coppers
What an artist would call technique
For a leaf is effortless
Chloroform and sugar, exposure of fibers
Like the surface of a photograph
Bleeding through darkness
Rests at our feet, in whispers