Someone I know talks particularly about broken marriages so casually, you’d think she wasn’t in the middle of it years ago. Scenes from movies and books — even separations, domestic violence and nasty marital affairs of people we know — told over dinner like it’s just another one of those stories you discuss in passing, hand me over the salt, would you, just like that. It unsettles me.

Dear Man Whose Marriage I Wrecked
Jeffrey McDaniel

If it’s any consolation, when your wife took me
in her mouth, I closed my eyes and pretended

I was a piece of wedding cake. I was the instigator,
bringing her flowers so often her co-workers

nicknamed me carnation hands. At night, I’d look
at the stars and slither my petals through her hair.

It was like we were on Mars–me staring over
her skull at one moon, her gazing at another.

What I’m really trying to say is I tumbled into her
arms like a thousand reluctant dominoes.

I mean, isn’t it odd–how you can buy a lap dance,
phone sex, or blowjob in a snap, but can’t

pay a person a dollar to just sit next to you
on a park bench and simply hold your hand?

The other day you said goodbye, then last night you came round to say you’re not trying hard enough: you can’t get me out of your head. You’re confusing, but I’m weak: you break my heart but I take you back, again and again.

The Quiet World
Jeffrey McDaniel

In an effort to get people to look
into each other’s eyes more,
and also to appease the mutes,
the government has decided
to allot each person exactly one hundred
and sixty-seven words, per day.

When the phone rings, I put it to my ear
without saying hello. In the restaurant
I point at chicken noodle soup.
I am adjusting well to the new way.

Late at night, I call my long distance lover,
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.
I saved the rest for you.

When she doesn’t respond,
I know she’s used up all her words,
so I slowly whisper I love you
thirty-two and a third times.
After that, we just sit on the line
and listen to each other breathe.

And then another day for kisses, again. And yet another work by McDaniel.

The Benjamin Franklin of Monogamy
Jeffrey McDaniel

Reminiscing in the drizzle of Portland, I notice
the ring that’s landed on your finger, a massive
insect of glitter, a chandelier shining at the end

of a long tunnel. Thirteen years ago, you hid the hurt
in your voice under a blanket and said there’s two kinds
of women—those you write poems about

and those you don’t. It’s true. I never brought you
a bouquet of sonnets, or served you haiku in bed.
My idea of courtship was tapping Jane’s Addiction

lyrics in Morse code on your window at three A.M.,
whiskey doing push-ups on my breath. But I worked
within the confines of my character, cast

as the bad boy in your life, the Magellan
of your dark side. We don’t have a past so much
as a bunch of electricity and liquor, power

never put to good use. What we had together
makes it sound like a virus, as if we caught
one another like colds, and desire was merely

a symptom that could be treated with soup
and lots of sex. Gliding beside you now,
I feel like the Benjamin Franklin of monogamy,

as if I invented it, but I’m still not immune
to your waterfall scent, still haven’t developed
antibodies for your smile. I don’t know how long

regret existed before humans stuck a word on it.
I don’t know how many paper towels it would take
to wipe up the Pacific Ocean, or why the light

of a candle being blown out travels faster
than the luminescence of one that’s just been lit,
but I do know that all our huffing and puffing

into each other’s ears—as if the brain was a trick
birthday candle—didn’t make the silence
any easier to navigate. I’m sorry all the kisses

I scrawled on your neck were written
in disappearing ink. Sometimes I thought of you
so hard one of your legs would pop out

of my ear hole, and when I was sleeping, you’d press
your face against the porthole of my submarine.
I’m sorry this poem has taken thirteen years

to reach you. I wish that just once, instead of skidding
off the shoulder blade’s precipice and joyriding
over flesh, we’d put our hands away like chocolate

to be saved for later, and deciphered the calligraphy
of each other’s eyelashes, translated a paragraph
from the volumes of what couldn’t be said.

Probably used that phrase more often than not. This poem has always been close to my heart.

The Archipelago of Kisses
Jeffrey McDaniel

We live in a modern society. Husbands and wives don’t grow
     on trees like in the old days. So where
does one find love? When you’re sixteen it’s easy – like being
     unleashed with a credit card
in a department store of kisses. There’s the first kiss.
     The sloppy kiss. The peck.
The sympathy kiss. The backseat smooch. The we shouldn’t
     be doing this kiss. The but your lips
taste so good kiss. The bury me in an avalanche of tingles kiss.
     The I wish you’d quit smoking kiss.
The I accept your apology, but you make me really mad
     sometimes kiss. The I know
your tongue like the back of my hand
kiss. As you get older,
     kisses become scarce. You’ll be driving
home and see a damaged kiss on the side of the road,
     with its purple thumb out. Now if you
were younger, you’d pull over, slide open the mouth’s ruby door
     just to see how it fits. Oh where
does one find love? If you rub two glances together, you get
     a smile; rub two smiles, you get
a spark; rub two sparks together and you have a kiss. Now
     what? Don’t invite the kiss
to your house and answer the door in your underwear. It’ll get
     suspicious and stare at your toes.
Don’t water the kiss with whiskey. It’ll turn bright pink and explode
     into a thousand luscious splinters,
but in the morning it’ll be ashamed and sneak out of your body
     without saying goodbye,
and you’ll remember that kiss forever by all the little cuts it left
     on the inside of your mouth. You must
nurture the kiss. Dim the lights, notice how it illuminates
     the room. Clutch it to your chest,
wonder if the sand inside every hourglass comes from a special
     beach. Place it on the tongue’s pillow,
then look up the first recorded French kiss in history: beneath
     a Babylonian olive tree in 1300 B.C.
But one kiss levitates above all the others. The intersection
     of function and desire. The I do kiss.
The I’ll love you through a brick wall kiss. Even when
     I’m dead, I’ll swim through the earth
like a mermaid of the soil, just to be next to your bones
.

Nothing makes sense, even this poem, but I know you get it, I know you understand.

Absence
Jeffrey McDaniel

On the scales of desire, your absence weighs more
than someone else’s presence, so I say no thanks

to the woman who throws her girdle at my feet,
as I drop a postcard in the mailbox and watch it

throb like a blue heart in the dark. Your eyes
are so green – one of your parents must be

part traffic light. We’re both self-centered,
but the world revolves around us at the same speed.

Last night I tossed and turned inside a thundercloud.
This morning my sheets were covered in pollen.

I remember the long division of Saturday’s
pomegranate, a thousand nebulae in your hair,

as soldiers marched by, dragging big army bags
filled with water balloons, and we passed a lit match,

back and forth, between our lips, under an oak tree
I had absolutely nothing to do with.

My friend told me today that utopia doesn’t exist for people like us. Because we have too many wounds, because our hurt spans a universe. I gave him this poem.

The Scars of Utopia
Jeffrey McDaniel

If you keep taking stabs at utopia
sooner or later there will be scars.

Suppose there was a thermometer able to measure
contentment. Would you slide it under

your tongue and risk being told you were on par
with a thirteenth century farmer who lost

all his teeth in a game of hide and seek? Would you
be tempted to abandon your portable conscience,

the remote control that lets you choose who you are
for every occasion? I wish we cared more

about how we sounded than how we looked.
Instead of primping before mirrors each morning,

we’d huddle in echo chambers, practicing our scales.
As a kid, I thought the local amputee was dying in
pieces,

that his left arm was leaning against a tree in heaven,
waiting for the rest of him to arrive, as if God

was dismantling him like a jigsaw puzzle, but now
I understand we’re all missing something. I wish

there were Band Aids for what you don’t know, whisky
breath mints for sober people to fit in at wild parties.

There ought to be a Smithsonian for misfits,
where an insomniac’s clammy pillow hangs over

a narcoleptic’s drool cup, the teeth of an anorexic
displayed like a white picket fence designed

to keep food from trespassing. I wish the White House
was made out of mood ring rock, reflecting

the health of the nation. And an atheist hour
at every church, and needle exchange programs,

and haystack exchange programs too, and emotional
baggage thrift stores, a Mount Rushmore for assassins.

I’m sick of strip malls and billboards. I dream
of a road lit by people who set themselves on fire,

no asphalt, no rest stops, just a bunch of dead grass
with footprints so deep, like a track meet in wet cement.