Stan Friedman

The Beaten Path

A house in the woods is singing.
Her red floorboards warp in rows
of gradual smiles as the walls grow ripe
with termites. In a summer like this one
half a million can breed between the studs,
massaging the plaster to talc. A family
of field mice nuzzle in the knife drawer
and their fur is glazed with a sweetness
that drizzles from the ceiling, a ceiling soaked
not with rain, but with the produce
of fifty thousand bees that slave in the attic.

After the investigation, the men took away
a whisker, a sampling of bone,
a garbage can of honey for each of their wives.

~ .

Reservation for Two

Ask the guard: Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?
and she'll point down, not only to Ulysses S.

but also his missus, Julia, there at rest
in their twin red-granite sarcophogi.

See, they aren't really buried, and they come as a set,
so the old joke is really a trick question duplex.

And to think that at his funeral the bishop said,
"Side by side they shall sleep in the same tomb,

and she shall share whatever homage future ages
shall pay." Who knew an homage recession

could last 107 years? And to know how she closed
her memoir: "The light of his glorious fame

still reaches out to me, falls upon me,
and warms me." Not through three inches of rock

it doesn't. You traveled around the world all right
but your radiance was sucked up by the black hole

of history. You're cold, Ms. Dent, a pile of bone
smaller than that of his horse, Cincinnati.

"Bought the farm" would have been a fitting phrase
for you in 1902, but the plantation he called

Hardscrabble, he drove into the ground long ago.
Yet when you went, you went wealthy

thanks to his autobiography, the one written
with the sole purpose of ensuring your comfort.

He died the day he finished it; that's true,
I've seen it in print. I hope you didn't blame

yourself; he was chock full of cancer after all.
Sure, it's one thing to live in the past

but to do it while dead takes perseverance.
Sharing a national memorial helps. Just ask

the tourist who, with but a single flower
for the dead, whispers: Oh, of course,

his wife.

~ .

Mama's Boy

I won't stand for this any longer,
you sneaking back inside my womb.
Bad enough when you reached adolescence,
slipping up under my housedress while I washed
the dishes, banging the walls of my belly,
moaning the names of girls I'd never meet
until you fell fast and uncontrollably asleep.
Should have put a stop to it in high school,
yes sir, but you'd come home past curfew,
spend the night counting my heartbeat,
touching the tip of your nose to my extra rib
touching the tip of your nose to my extra rib
when I exhaled. I knew right,
you grew out of it when you left home,
too caught up in a hurricane
to want back in the eye. But ten years
is storm enough without a port,
so over the phone tonight you breech
right out of my earpiece and slip like an amnio
through my navel. Your marbles
are still there, shooters and cat's eyes
that otherwise would be your brothers and sisters.
They are smooth and hot. Beside us in bed
you-know-who is watching my face
so I must tap to you in code
that this simply must stop, that a place
as safe as it is dark
should be inhabited only twice.

~ .

A Brush With Desire

She's biting down and
licking his nose she's tied
his feet with her bra his hands
with her hose he's bouncing
into her laughing uncontrollably
fragrant lust-rotten guffaws,
her whispers hot cuss words
their steam rising to his nostrils
like coke then a scissor
of light, a cloak, strikes from under
her mane from beneath
the pillow itself reveals
a pair of wings gossamer
as the bubble of spit inflating
on his lips and Shit! it's
the Tooth Fairy risen
from his childhood bed (now
of all times) to redeem
the cuspid he would not surrender
that he tried to glue back
but ended up swallowing and
the woman is blaring clawing
his back the imp not even
embarrassed as it frees itself
waving a wand and she yells
there's no such thing
it was your mom
late at night he is having
an orgasm and a halo
of stars spins around the wand
he feels the hollow in his gut
conks out till daybreak
when she and it and it
are gone his limbs still bound
a silver dollar wedged
between his knees.

~ .

The Devil's Tool

Place an ear
tight to your mattress
and whimper into the sheet.
The springs breathe,
they amplify your low moan
and the whole bed brays
with the sound of cattle
at the realization of morning.

The transistor radio is dead
so lick the battery. Your tastebuds,
flat against the 9-volt's tips,
tingle as if the tongue had been tied
across your lower lip and tickled
way past the point of pleasure.
The battery is fine.

You decide you want to boil milk,
a lot of it, a gallon
in an aluminum pot.
There are white bubbles
like a cloud drowning
or a bedsheet stalked by blisters.
You can place an arm above the disturbed
surface and think that this burn was born
from an animal mouthful of grass
or how your mother would test
your formula in much this same way.

The binoculars are ancient but your act
of magnification is not consumed by time.
The woman's legs are just as long,
the green tattoo on the man's back
just as hard to discern. Blocks away
she looks right at you, you handsome postcard:
Nude Reposed On Windowsill.
You are so hungry for a salad doused in vinegar.
You are sprouting stubble even as you watch.

Turn the spyglass to the clock
and see the space between each second.
This is how long the day can be.

~ .

In Praise of Sex, Fully Clothed

Again, you pull me down on your unmade bed.
Cottons and silks contain us
like wine skins, straps and buckles
keeping our precious mettle
under wraps. Your legs
give hot substance to your tights
which press then steam my pants.

Unbutton my shirt, your dress,
to release a complexity of texture
superior to that of flesh
on flesh: a tee of the teeth,
a slip of the tongue.
This can last for hours.
Our fabrics rise and fall,
our naked voices filtered
in cloth, carnal kazoos.

Does a sheet with a low thread count
turn you off? That weaver
on public TV, fingering his loom,
is he Eros for the long-winded
or merely a pimp for the shy?

Fertile stains tease us inside our undies
as this familiar motion
lulls us to sleep and wrinkles our duds.
Another night neither out on the town
nor wowing the masses,
but the lights are on, Sweetheart,
and we're dressed to kill.

(Stan Friedman's poetry has appeared in Sulfur, Open City, and the Beloit Poetry Journal, his poetry criticism in The New York Times Book Review and Publishers Weekly. Other non-fiction credits include an internet Q&A column which was syndicated for two years by United Media, dozens of theatre reviews for Punchin.com, scores of cookbook critiques for Publishers Weekly. Friedman has an MFA from Columbia's Writing Division, an MLS from Rutgers, and a BFA from Bowling Green State University. He is the Senior Research Librarian for Condé Nast Publications in New York. This is his first contribution to the magazine.)