by gm

Tanja Bartel


Who was I to diss the hipster poet?
Bowing my head into my late grading—
I’ve used the word ‘iffy’ in a reference letter.
I’ve cancelled two classes to watch Survivor.
–David McGimpsey “Orville Redenbacher’s mistress rejects the label ‘porn star’”


I came up from under the city, satchel
full of bad handwriting. Tide of the train
crowd washed me to the edge of the platform.
Above, the skyscrapers with their many layers
of breath. Yellow ballet of some stranger’s
piss swirled in the lone cafe toilet,
greeted potential geniuses stalled in the line-up.
Hymn of an anorexic boy spiralled down
from the hotel balcony, circled my head like a satellite.
Who was I to diss the hipster poet?


That grimy guy who always sat cross-
legged on the sidewalk, petting
a chunk of pyrite directly under the edge
of a torn awning, rainwater sluicing over
his drooping head. The part of his hair, a bald
stripe. Mistook him for a poor fool, fading,
till I heard him talking to a uniformed man
about his manuscript. My own, flabby,
unfinished. I’m a ham teaching English, ageing,
bowing my head into my late grading.


I’ve reused personal report card
comments; laughed at others’ jokes
at one meeting, then mirrored them
in another; borrowed someone’s apple
from the staff room fridge; forgotten unmarked
papers at home; used a stencil to render
the word ‘Original’; parked in the Drop-off Only
spot when my heels were too high.
I’ve watched my students leave and felt better.
I’ve used the word ‘iffy’ in a reference letter.

Soaking up the curses and cigarette smoke, I circled
the school parking lot and dreamed of coddling
capybaras in a sprawling Amazon tree fort. Sleep-
walked inside and toiled under fluorescent rays.
I’ve languished too long with frozen feet and lank hair
for a half-hearted coffee, pinching a French cruller.
Longed for gushing lava instead of cold appliances:
tinfoil sparking in the microwave, false warmth. I’ve lapsed
and relapsed before, squeezed in a one-hour mai tai bender.
I’ve cancelled two classes to watch Survivor.