How It Will End cover

How It Will End

Denise Duhamel

Copyright © 2010 Denise Duhamel. All rights reserved.

Duper's Delight

According to a body language expert on The Big Idea, a relationship is over
when one of the parties shoots a look of contempt at the other.
I turn to the TV—I was folding clothes—but it's too late.
I miss the visual cue the expert calls "a micro-expression." I'm curious
if it's a facial tick, a certain way the eyes flick or squint.
But she's already onto the next topic: always turn
your belly button towards the interviewer if you want to get a job.
Doesn't that mean you're turning your genitals towards the interviewer, too?
The host Donny Deutsch is nodding, his long arms open,
his palms toward the camera, which means he's receptive.
And I wonder about my husband's contempt, my own flinches,
what we say to each other with our faces. I call him
to come and hang up his shirts. When I point to the TV,
he tells me our twitches are nothing
but impatience, recounting examples of the stress
we've both been under as of late. My husband smiles—duper's delight,
the kind of grin the expert says indicates a liar
who takes a secret pleasure in his fabrication.
My husband looks away, another sign of a deception,
but he insists that his downward cast is cultural,
that Asians don't like to stare. He complains he can't win,
especially if I keep scrutinizing him with my giant American
magnifying glass. His bellybutton is at a 45-degree angle
from mine. I'm dizzy again, a condition for which I've diagnosed myself
on My husband is sick of my whining,
says it's only the heat from the dryer, but I know it could also be
my sinuses, anxiety, maybe symptoms of a stroke.
This morning an arrow of light fluttered in the corner
of my right eye. The image shone like an exit sign. All my blinking
and rubbing couldn't send it away. I can't tell you
exactly when the glowing projectile disappeared,
but I can tell you when my husband did,
exactly six days later, on September 10th.

If You Really Want To

The little old ladies at the condo whisper every time I walk past—
her husband left, did you see his face on TV, he's in some kind of trouble, I wonder
what their problem was, he always seemed like such a nice guy, maybe
he left her for someone else, maybe he's gay, maybe she cheated on him
and he found out, the police were at her door asking questions, the mailman
heard he was some kind of white collar criminal, I heard he beat her,
the doorman told me she was crying…
The whispers get so bad that I'm afraid
to go to the local hair salon to tend to my wiry roots, my stress-straw hair,
so I can go back to work. I ask for the earliest appointment, climb into the chair,
looking past myself in the mirror to the ladies who file in behind me. I'm ready
to be asked, ready to tell my story, the one-sentence version I've practiced—
I'm going through a painful separation. The sentence is designed to gain pity,
to stop the questioner in her tracks.
 As Mildred foils my hair for highlights,
I notice the group of old women decidedly ignoring me, huddled around
the coffee pot, crying. Their friend has jumped from the 26th floor. She was depressed, one
says, and I told her, honey, get your medicines checked. So sad, so sad for her husband who
knew something was wrong when he woke up and felt the breeze
from the balcony. She'd opened the sliding glass door and pulled out a step stool
so she could climb over the railing.
Imagine, just that step stool and her glasses
on the balcony tile. When her husband looked down, the maintenance men
were covering her body with a tarp. If you really want to kill yourself,
the most stooped lady says, no one can stop you. It had been a long month of threats,
my husband's suicide posts on Facebook. Someone (my old student) actually wrote
on his wall, If you really want to kill yourself, take all your pills with milk
so you don't throw up and then tie a plastic bag over your head.
The dye
stung my scalp. I guess my student thought my husband was joking around.
Maybe he was joking, a sadistic joke to make us all worry. Don't do it!
We all took turns writing to him. Get to a hospital! The lady who jumped was 80
and jumped naked. Mildred shakes her head and says that suicides tend to take off
their glasses before they kill themselves. Maybe that's because
it is like they are going to fall asleep for the last time
     and they're used to leaving
their glasses on the nightstand. Maybe it's because they don't really want to see what
they're doing to themselves. Maybe they're afraid their glasses will shatter.
The old ladies feel guilty. The husband feels guilty. The children and grandchildren are
on their way. I feel guilty myself. When I wouldn't take him back,
my husband asked me to send him a warm coat. When I wouldn't take him back,
he asked me to send him his glasses and the rest of his contacts.

Madonna and Me

Madonna and I went through
our divorces
around the same time
and I followed her and Guy Ritchie
as a kind of therapy
I mean if Madonna was getting divorced
it couldn't be so bad right
and she'd be OK and I'd be OK
Guy Ritchie was walking away
saying he didn't want her money
because he was a macho British dude
unlike my husband
who was neither macho nor British
and wanted every cent he could get
I kept wanting my guy
to take a cue from Madonna's Guy
I wanted the two to meet in a sweets shop
in London they could bitch
about how Madonna and I
were so manipulative and controlling
Guy complained Madonna wouldn't allow
pastry in the house and I tried that rule too
since my husband had diabetes
Guy was underrated, as was my ex
who thought he was more talented
than I was as surely Guy thought
he was more talented than Madonna
or her Guy and my guy
could meet at a pub and pick up
younger women who would say
I don't know how you put up with that
and the new women would puff up their egos
that had been flattened
by Madonna and me with our big voices
hogging the spotlight
the press turned on Madonna
and wrote that she slept in a plastic suit
her body lubed up with wrinkle cream
that she and Guy never had sex anymore
but I think that suit may have been a lie
I didn't have such a suit
just old tee shirts and ratty shorts
I wore as pajamas
that my husband hated
because the shorts had paint stains
and the elastic waistband
was pretty shot and I'd dress up
for poetry readings but not for him
and what kind of wife did that
a wife tired of working two jobs
while her husband worked none
and maybe I was a workaholic
like Madonna who keeps touring
even though she'll never be able
to spend all her money
I had to work to support myself
work just to survive
but the truth is
I was also happiest working
away from my husband
whose body left an imprint on the couch
like a chalk outline at a crime scene
and why didn't I dial 911
when it got really bad
Madonna didn't either all those years ago
when Sean tied her to a chair
though maybe that never happened
and it was just a Hollywood rumor
and even Madonna
who talked about everything
never talked about that
because that kind of stuff just doesn't happen
to strong women like Madonna and me
or it happens but we write
"deal with the situation"
on the bottom of our to do list
and then throw the list away
it's easier to just step on a stage
or have the students
pull their chairs into a circle
for the poetry workshop
in that small room
where they will love you
or at least need you
to speak about their poems
and they will say thank you for helping me
and you will feel that even though
you can't help your husband anymore
you can help a few people
and they can help you
as you step into the applause

Takeout, 2008

My sister, my brother-in-law, and I order Chinese takeout
on New Year's Eve and my fortune reads
"You have to accept loss to win." This makes me almost hopeful—
and maybe, for a moment, even gives me a way
to make sense out of 2008. I am going to keep that fortune, I think,
but then promptly, accidentally, I throw it in the trash.
Later my sister says that she thought my fortune might have read,
"Only through learning to lose can you really win."
Or "Maybe accepting loss makes you a winner." I can't search
through the trash because I threw the bag of leftover Chinese
into the condo's chute which crushes whatever thuds to the bottom.
Yesterday I held my childhood drawings in my hand
except they had been drenched in sewer water, so it's more accurate to say
that I scooped Crayola pulp in my work gloves. The apartment
my sister and brother-in-law and I bought is gone, except
for the cement floor. Even the moldy walls must come down.
I dragged away the kitchen sink in a green garbage bag.
My brother-in-law wore a mask and a white Tyvex suit, prying up
the wet tiles with a screwdriver. The cabinets, the mattress,
the couch, the loveseat all gone. The books too wavy and stinky to keep.
My teenage diaries and early poems, inky mush. Everything
down the chute. I had stored my old papers in the new apartment
so my husband could have more room. My father died
the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my apartment flooded
on Christmas—and did I mention my husband left me
September 10? I bought the extra apartment in July of 2008
thinking it would save my marriage—if my beloved and I only had more
physical space, a place where he could make his art. When he left
it wasn't a civil "I've had enough…" departure. No.
There were suicide notes. There were threats.
He was even a missing person for a while, a danger to himself
and others, as the police wrote down on their forms. Oh, Elizabeth
Bishop, loss is hard to master, if you ask me. Goodbye, goodbye,
my dear papa. I bought the apartment because I thought my parents
could come down to Florida for a month in the winter to escape the cold.
The psychic said my father would do just fine in the operation
and he'd be calling me Skipper and walking with me on the beach
by March. The psychic said, Don't worry, your husband will never bring you harm.
She told me to sage my apartment to keep me safe. She said,
You are attached to your husband by a cord running from your stomach to his.
Every night I want you to work on loosening that cord before you fall asleep, OK?
After a few weeks of working on letting him go, I gave a slight tug
and he floated away. I whispered, Goodbye, my love. Take care.
Then that very night I dreamt he was back lying on the yellow couch
and I was yelling at him to get up and get a job. Everyone tried to help me
this year—from the pregnant clerk in Walmart who said,
If you give in to your anger, you give away your power…
to my students who drove me to the supermarket and the chiropractor
when my crumpled car was in the shop. Even the woman
whose car I wrecked on the way to the divorce lawyer
said, It's OK, it's OK, no one's hurt.
But no one could truly protect me from this year.
Did I tell you that the poetry class I was supposed to teach was cancelled?
Did I tell you I smashed my toenail with the wet-vac and it really hurts?
Did I tell you I lost $200 in the span it took me to get from the ATM
back into the Honda? Did I tell you that I dropped the $320
I clutched in a roll either in CVS or the post office?
That I retraced my steps, but the clerks just laughed at my panic?
Did I tell you that this year I have gotten on my knees
and prayed for grace and peace of mind to get through the next hour?
I know that there are many far worse off than I am
and, on the chain of misery, I am but a flimsy inconsequential link.
There are people with missing children, not missing husbands.
I had my father 47 long years. There are people without a place
to sleep tonight. I know that. When my mother asks me
to please turn off the TV as she doesn't want to watch the CNN story
about the terrorist attacks in India on the day of my father's wake,
I assume it is because she just can't take any more suffering.
But then she says I don't care about those people which I know isn't really true,
but it is true in that one dark moment she has—I only care about your father
and I don't judge her. After the surgeons worked 14 hours on my dad,
he was so full of fluids they couldn't close him back up.
I wasn't at the hospital because I thought everything was going
to be all right (not only because of the psychic, but because of a feeling I had
that nothing else could go wrong this year.) I was into being positive
and strong—lighting white candles, holding the thought of my dad
on his favorite recliner, buying him special vitamins to help him
heal faster after his heart valve replacement. My father was oozing fluids
at the end and cried pink tears, which were probably saline tinged with blood.
My brother-in-law pulled the sheet over his face. I want to pull the sheet
over this poem, over this entire year. I wasn't in the hospital
because I was teaching a class—not the one that had been cancelled,
but a fiction class the university asked me to do instead. I had wanted
to sit in on a fellow professor's graduate plot class because I want to write
fiction, too. But the undergrad fiction class I was asked to teach
was on the same night. I had already missed two weeks of classes
because of my husband's disappearance, so my work ethic (passed on
from my dad) made me stay in Florida instead of going to Rhode Island
to be with him the day of his operation. The doctor said to me,
Your heartbeat is double what it should be, but the good news is
you've lost 20 pounds. If you keep this up, Meryl Streep can play you
in the TV movie. He was making fun of my life—my list of complaints
that I rattled off so quickly they probably sounded made up.
Even my therapist has started to look at me with suspicion.
She knows she dare not ask, What do you think you're getting out of all this crisis?
I skip the New Year's Eve party because my sister and her husband
tried to fly home this morning but their plane couldn't land
in the Providence snow and they were rerouted back.
Ten hours later they landed in the very same place
I drove them to this morning. I re-made the futon
and hung up the towels I'd just washed and put away.
There can be no movie of my life at the moment unless someone else
writes it—I never did sit in that class and get the hang of plot,
though I am learning on my own about reversals.
What does the main character (me) want? Does she ever get it?
What are the obstacles in her way? My sister and her husband
are all falling asleep before the ball drops, before the fireworks,
the sounds of which have always made me afraid. It is already 2009
in Bangkok, where 61 party-goers were killed in nightclub fire.
The party was billed on the poster as a "blowout." Yes,
there are people far worse off than I. My husband used to caress my hairline
to help me sleep, but tonight I'll take another Xanax. My sister says,
Please go out with your friends. We'll be fine. I skip the party
because it's hard on this last day of this year to yuck it up and laugh.
And the only other alternative is to go and be a drag. I am trying
to be more like Elizabeth. I am trying to remember the exact wording
of my fortune, though my friend told me last week that stress
erodes one's memory and stress-eroded memory never comes back.
Oh no, I said. She looked confused, explaining she didn't tell me to upset me,
only so that I would try harder to de-stress. I keep hearing the hum
of the industrial fans and the wet-vac. Another friend said, Look!
There's this article in The New Yorker about someone else
who just wrote a book of poetry about money. He cut it out for me
and everything. The poet is Katy Lederer. The article is called
"The Ballad of the Bubble." Shit, I said, just my luck. And my friend said,
I didn't tell you to depress you—I told you to show you how you were in the zeitgeist.
Miss Z. Geist, that's me. My new book coming out in February
is called Ka-Ching!, a word that can mean either a windfall or a big loss.
My friend called my beloved the Bear Sterns of Husbands because he melted down
at the same time as the investment firm. My sister and her husband
are going to try to get on that same plane again in the morning.
I set my alarm for 5 a.m. (like yesterday) so I can drive them to the airport.
I wonder if Meryl Streep can do my Rhode Island accent.
I wonder if they'll give her a frizzy wig. It is already 2009
in London where takeout is called takeaway—and I say, take away 2008.
Out, out, out, long wretched year! Year with an excruciating "leap second"
added to keep the world's clocks on time with the globe's slowing rotation.
When I taught fiction this fall, I kept talking about the sympathetic narrator,
since some of my students kept picking jerks to tell their stories.
And sometimes I suspected the jerky narrator was a lot like the student
writing the piece. I am a lot like the narrator of this poem—
I am, in fact, completely her. I always tried to be tactful when I said in class
that the average reader might not care about this particular narrator's plight.
So I don't blame you, dear reader, for not caring about me either.
I will try to be more likeable in my next poem.
For now, I'm broke and alone. A Dolly Parton song.
Still, I am trying harder, faster. Still, I am trying to learn the art.

Food and Men

I put in Heartburn, then start dipping
breadsticks into a container of hummus,
my dinner, as I watch
Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson
their first night together, scoffing the pasta
she's made at 4 a.m. They're in her bed,
twirling their forks into the same big bowl
just like the scene in An Unmarried Woman
in which Jill Clayburgh and Alan Bates
gobble her famous omelet with Tabasco sauce
from the same skillet.
I have never eaten anything
with anyone from the same pot
or serving dish. Maybe I have missed out
by not learning to cook
something simple and sexy
that I could offer in a post-coital
moment. I have spent
a good part of my life afraid
of food and men, one of whom
asked, Why is there only diet coke
and a head of cabbage in your fridge?
He'd spent the night and was looking
for orange juice or a bagel, I guess.
I told him I was headed to the market
that very day, that I'd just been busy.
We went to a diner where I explained
the cabbage wasn't even mine—
it belonged to a roommate
who was away for a week
and that's why it was turning brown.
She's on some crazy diet, I said.
The truth is—I was too.
I can't even remember which regimen
it was—Low fat? Vegetarian? Sugar free?—
but I went off it when I ordered pancakes.
The man was older than I was
with a woman to whom he was committed.
Could I deal with that? he wanted to know.
I said that was weirder than having
a lone cabbage in the fridge
and I left in a huff, but not that much
of a huff, since I was used to jerks.
I wonder if he would have left her
for me if I'd whipped up French toast
and we wolfed it down together,
standing over the stove,
he in his boxers, I in my open robe.
When I went back home, I decided
to throw out the cabbage. It was heavy
like a bowling ball without the holes.
I awkwardly cradled it, slimy
in the plastic it was wrapped in.
The guy called back a few times,
saying, What about phone sex?
It would be another five years
before I would marry
someone else, someone appropriate
or so I thought. The first time he spent
the night at my apartment, he said,
"Let's order in!" even though
I had stocked up on coffee and yogurt
and fruit. The scrambled eggs came
in Styrofoam containers, but he put
the food on plates for good presentation.
Soon after he said we should get married—
so casual I couldn't be sure
it was a real proposal. For a while,
he even cooked like Meryl Streep.
But a few years into our marriage,
he started to sleep a lot and stare
into a computer screen instead of at me.
It ended badly, though not because
I was like Jack Nicholson. It's true
that I've rented Heartburn on DVD,
but I still haven't found the divorce
movie that truly captures
my situation. I am much happier
than when I was married,
but as Meryl Streep's shrink
(Maureen Stapleton) tells her,
"Divorce is only a temporary solution."
No one gets heartburn in Heartburn
which makes the title too much
of a pun, in my opinion. Still,
I can relate to the shouting matches
and the ransacking of pockets and drawers,
looking for clues. After my husband
left, I found dozens and dozens
of Alka-Seltzer packets he'd bought
for an art project. He'd written
words on the tablets with a Sharpie,
then dropped them into water,
filming them as they fizzled
and disappeared. I have to admit
he had some good ideas,
as I push the open button and slide out
the DVD. I make sure I've not left
any crumbs on the couch.
In the kitchen my ex was famous
for his spills and splatters, dirtying
as many plates and pans
as possible. I suppose I could say
that one of the reasons it ended badly
was because I was always responsible
for the clean up.


I am on the outside now like my childless aunt
the one we all hated because my uncle doted on her
she didn't like children you could tell
and wore silk dresses that had to be dry-cleaned
how extravagant said my mother she's spoiled said the other aunts
who were busy in their polyester blends busy with their kids
I have a memory of this aunt eating bonbons
as I swung on a tire hung from a tree branch in her yard
my aunt didn't offer us any candy and that was just bad manners
even as a kindergartener I knew that
but now I have become that aunt
my sister-in-law wants my husband
to move in with her to take care of her children
and what do I know about suffering and divorces
and restraining orders what do I know about staying up all night
with a daughter with a fever
when I called about the $300 worth of extra cell phone charges
the woman at T-mobile said honey I hate to be the one to tell you
but there's a number and she read my sister-in-law's number
all the calls are to and from your husband's cell
sometimes they're on a couple of hours
they talked when I was at work
the woman said I'm sorry thinking my husband was having an affair
but the affair was with his sister and it wasn't an affair really
it was therapy and my husband was the therapist
even though he isn't a therapist
our niece wrote a one-act play in which a man is being abused
by his wife who is a witch a demon
and the man's kindly sister is trying to help him escape
I know you are being abused as I was once too the heroine says
my sister-in-law thought her brother was abused because he vacuumed once
I guess she thought he was doting on me
my husband thought he was abused because I asked him to cook dinner
when he didn't have a job for over a year
I understand why my aunt never fought back
because once you are labeled as someone terrible
there is nothing much you can do to change your reputation
there is no way to prove your kindness
if you are nice everyone will think you are phony trying to trick them
and if you are cold well it just confirms their theory
sometimes my husband disappears from this story
only to come back to say please don't call my sister
the other woman
it grosses me out
OK I won't
our niece got an A for her play
portraying me as ugly and cruel
and the teacher thought it was so realistic
her theater class even did a staged reading of it
a loud eighth grade girl playing a shrill me
a small eighth grade boy cowering as my husband
sometimes my uncle disappears from this story
only to come back
with a giant stuffed animal for me
and a kiss on the cheek for my aunt
when I stole two of her chocolates
and poked holes into the rest left in the box
she knew enough not to complain
and kept her squashed candies to herself

Self-Portrait in Hydrogen Peroxide

I never thought of myself as "the blond" or even "a blond,"
until a young man working his way up
to asking me for a date says, My ex is jealous of the blond
I keep talking about. At first, I think he means someone else,
someone other than me. A third woman in the equation.
Then he says, My friends want to know why I keep bringing up
the blond divorcée. I have only recently grasped the fact
that I am a divorcée, the gentle accent over the first "e"
like a hand coming down to pat me on the shoulder,
to tell me things will be OK. I don't have to be ostracized,
like the divorced moms I knew as a child. I'm a cougar now,
accepted and absorbed by the mainstream,
even though I haven't had plastic surgery, even though
my bank account isn't exactly purring. I get this, sort of,
but I still don't feel like a blond—a blonde
with or without the extra "e" on the end. In fact,
I dyed my hair red for over ten years, until I moved to Florida
where it was too hard to keep up, my frizz turning orange in the sun.
So I went back to being blond, but not "a blond" or "the blond."
I insisted on Jodie-Foster-ash-blond, not Pamela-Anderson-platinum,
the first choice of the hairdresser who was sure
I could pull it off. I grew up with dumb blond jokes
and one of my big fears was looking stupid. Another big fear,
looking smart. I had the highest IQ in 7th grade—
the teacher announced this fact to the class
after we took some standardized test. Great, I thought,
now I'll never get a date. So I tried to act dumb,
then smart again, then I thought that what I really wanted
was to blend in, but that can't be true—
because then why would I have dyed my hair bright red?
It was an experiment for an article I was writing
for an alternative weekly in New York,
to see if people reacted to redheads differently,
which, I found, they did. Women were less likely to cut
in front of me in line, men less likely to whistle.
I held onto my power in a Clairol box as long as I could.
But now I have a lot of gray hair. To tell you the truth,
it's easier to be blond because the gray blends in,
just the way I've always wanted to blend in
and not. The magazine folded, so my article was never printed.
Glamour ran a similar story shortly thereafter,
blonds on staff becoming redheads and brunettes, reporting pretty
much the same results I'd found. Now I'm middle-aged,
with a middle-age spread. Even though I'm "a blond,"
it's false advertising. There's a lot of silver in my hair,
I tell my potential suitor. He says he doesn't care, reminding me
that I am a cougar which makes him a cub. I catch us
in the mirror—my lines, my loose skin, a wrinkle
in my skirt, his big arms and pressed shirt. I'm nervous
and talking too much, about my doomed
article on redheads for which I was paid a kill fee,
a term I have to explain. He's relieved
I'm not a murderer. When I ask him if he knows
what a cub reporter is, he squints. I'm 47, I blurt.
He says, Oh, never mind then, you crazy old lady.
Why would I want to go out with you?
Then I begin to roar, the big laugh of a blond cougar.


loneliness is holding a piece of cardboard
under your new kitchen cabinets
as the handyman drills holes for the hinges
that will hold the door in place
and you are catching the sawdust
so he won't make a mess
as he looks down your blouse and asks you to lunch
I know you like lunch and you say you can't
and he presses why not and aw, come on
until he says don't tell me you have a new man already
and you say Victor, a name you make up on the spot
your handyman says take it from me I'm divorced twice
it's too early to date exclusively and you say
I hear you, but Victor is really something
this is the last trip your handyman needs to make
to finish the job he started four months ago
when your ex was trying to get alimony
from you and the handyman said no man should take money
from a girl and that's really low and you loved him
for being on your side and paid him cash
under the table and he was always on time
and swept up because he'd been a single dad
Victor is a champ, a winner, a conqueror,
your therapist will tell you later
but for now you are holding on
as best as you can resisting the handyman
who you actually like but everyone you trust
has said don't do it and you deserve better
because the handyman is a bankrupt chain smoking alcoholic
who's looking for a place to live
most probably with you
a sober employed woman allergic to smoke
and you are thinking what do my friends know
when the handyman says let's take a shower together
and see what happens you almost drop the cardboard
and the mound of sawdust
that you wish didn't look so much like a mound
and you say are you crazy and the handyman sulks
well it was worth a try and you ask
why did you wait so long to ask me out
knowing he would have had a much better chance
when he first started the tile work
and you probably would have given anything
just to have someone hold you
he says I wanted it to be all proper
so that we could see each other
when I wasn't working for you anymore
you give him the last beer in your fridge
that you've kept stocked just for him
and he folds the bubble wrap
the doors were swaddled in saying keep this
I know you like bubble wrap which seems like
the most romantic thing anyone has ever said
to you and that this handyman knows you
better than any other man ever has
he folds up the cardboard packaging
to take out to the trash and you follow him
trying to think of something that would make him laugh
when he leaves he shakes your hand
and says just for the record I hate Victor's guts
and you almost say me too

Boxed Set Sestina

I hid my hopes in a cigar box on Christmas, but you gave them away on Boxing Day (in Canada). I clipped box tops for coupons while you gobbled an expensive Bento box lunch. You were a no-show as I waited in line at the box office in the satin pillbox I bought at the thrift store. I collected hatboxes while you flew your box kite wearing only your boxers. Our lovemaking once wore out the box springs, but now you said you felt boxed in. I slumped in the last row while you glowed with someone else in our box seats. You slept in first class while I shivered in the boxcar. I never got your love letter because you forgot to put it in the mailbox. I felt so neglected I ate fistfuls of croutons right from the box in my boxy, unflattering housedress. My shadow box was filled with ceramic figurines of you. Your toolbox was as empty as our icebox. I stayed home, blaring my boom box while you drank at the bar, wasting quarters in a dusty jukebox. Every time I wanted to talk, you told me to get off my soapbox. Were our problems bigger than a breadbox? Yes! Especially when I caught you peeing in the sandbox or dipping into the cashbox while you thought I wasn't looking. It's true I was a chatterbox, but you can't deny you put your affection in a lockbox while you played with your vintage Matchbox cars. It was up to me to open the fuse box and fix the problem. Up to me to take kickboxing to defend myself. I thought I was thinking outside the box when I played your favorite song, Daddy Cool's "Baby, Let Me Bang Your Box," on my squeezebox. I was hoping to win you back after our most vicious boxing match. Thirty-nine rounds of screaming that made the German Boxer next-door growl. It had all started when your word "boxwallah" wasn't in the Scrabble dictionary, then I won with "carboxyl." You snatched up your ebony snuffbox while I tore the boxberries from our flowerbox. I stuffed a shoebox with regret. You packed up your Hot Wheels lunchbox and left.

How It Will End

We're walking on the boardwalk
but stop when we see a lifeguard and his girlfriend
fighting. We can't hear what they're saying,
but it is as good as a movie. We sit on a bench to find out
how it will end. I can tell by her body language
he's done something really bad. She stands at the bottom
of the ramp that leads to his hut. He tries to walk halfway down
to meet her, but she keeps signaling don't come closer.
My husband says, "Boy, he's sure in for it,"
and I say, "He deserves whatever's coming to him."
My husband thinks the lifeguard's cheated, but I think
she's sick of him only working part time
or maybe he forgot to put the rent in the mail.
The lifeguard tries to reach out
and she holds her hand like Diana Ross
when she performed "Stop in the Name of Love."
The red flag that slaps against his station means strong currents.
"She has to just get it out of her system,"
my husband laughs, but I'm not laughing.
I start to coach the girl to leave the no-good lifeguard,
but my husband predicts she'll never leave.
I'm angry at him for seeing glee in their situation
and say, "That's your problem—you think every fight
is funny. You never take her seriously" and he says,
"You never even give the guy a chance and you're always nagging,
so how can he tell the real issues from the nitpicking?"
and I say, "She doesn't nitpick!" and he says, "Oh really?
Maybe he should start recording her tirades," and I say
"Maybe he should help out more," and he says
"Maybe she should be more supportive," and I say
"Do you mean supportive or do you mean support him?"
and my husband says that he's doing the best he can,
that's he's a lifeguard for Christ's sake, and I say
that her job is much harder, that she's a waitress
who works nights carrying heavy trays and is hit on all the time
by creepy tourists and he just sits there most days napping
and listening to "Power 96" and then ooh
he gets to be the big hero blowing his whistle
and running into the water to save beach bunnies who flatter him
and my husband says it's not as though she's Miss Innocence
and what about the way she flirts, giving free refills
when her boss isn't looking or cutting extra large pieces of pie
to get bigger tips, oh no she wouldn't do that because she's a saint
and he's the devil, and I say, "I don't know why you can't just admit
he's a jerk," and my husband says, "I don't know why you can't admit
she's a killjoy," and then out of the blue the couple is making up.
The red flag flutters, then hangs limp.
She has her arms around his neck and is crying into his shoulder.
He whisks her up into his hut. We look around, but no one is watching us.

Denise Duhamel

Denise Duhamel's most recent poetry titles are Ka-Ching! (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009); Two And Two (Pittsburgh, 2005); Mille et un Sentiments (Firewheel, 2005); Queen for a Day: Selected And New Poems (Pittsburgh, 2001); and The Star-Spangled Banner (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999). A bilingual edition of her poems, Afortunada de mí (Lucky Me), translated into Spanish by Dagmar Buchholz and David Gonzalez, was released with Bartleby Editores (Madrid) in 2008. Her collaborative projects include three volumes with Maureen Seaton and 237 More Reasons To Have Sex (with Sandy McIntosh) and ABBA: The Poems with Amy Lemmon. Denise Duhamel’s poetry has been anthologized widely, including eight editions of The Best American Poetry. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, she is a professor at Florida International University in Miami.