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06 April 2013

Things in Light Poetry Series 2013: Robert Masterson


TiL thinks every month should be National Poetry Month. But, since it's not, we're gonna share as much goddamn poetry as we can as Songkran (ថ្ងៃ​សង្រ្កាន្ដ) approaches. Our second installment of the 2013 TiL Poetry Series shares the work of lord of language Robert Masterson. ¡Que viva!

Some Waitresses I Have Known

She was a steamed pudding,
a dumpling,
a moist soft pastry with a shining face and
greasy fingers
ladling huge ladles of noodle soup,
of cabbage and potatoes,
of boiled pork and
the dark spikes of her dark dark hair
escaped from under her white white cotton cap
plastered to her skin with sweat and by steam,
followed the lines of her face, of her cheeks and
if there was ever such a thing possible
as a communist Madonna
in a white cotton apron and
revealed to us all through clouds of kitchen steam
from the communal soup kettle,
she would be one of those.
I’d sit at the dark end of the cantina
for the last hour of the evening
waiting for her to get off work
so I could drive us to her house and
I watched her steal from the drunks and
the flirts when they weren’t looking by
slipping their money off the table and
by adding my drinks to their tabs and
by altering their credit card receipts to reflect
surprising generosity, an acute appreciation
of her skills as a cocktail temptress.
On more than many more than one occasion
as we sat in my car in the parking lot and
waited for the engine to warm up,
for the heater to kick in,
she would fan her cash
in front of my face and
it was usually a lot and
she would ask me "What did you make today?" and
she knew I hadn’t made anything.
I once watched her chase a bad tipper
into the parking lot and
fling the silver he’d left her
like it was dirt to bounce off his car windows,
his mouth a frightened circle and moist,
some quarters and a dime on an $80 tab
scattered in the dust and pea-sized gravel,
dull gray in mercury-vapor lamplight.
She was a giantess among Japanese
and she was therefore obliged to buy kimono at the special gaijin kimono store and pay those special gaijin prices
but she was a natural blond.
At the bottle club in the Roppongi district where she worked,
near the Hard Rock Tokyo where she never went,
somewhere east of the enormous television screen on the side of the enormous building that showed the endless loop of dolphins swimming and leaping between
an emerald tropical sea and a turquoise tropical sky,
somewhere down there on a side street above a restaurant where it always rained or at least dripped from the innumerable gray clouds in the city’s gray sky and the innumerable drips and leaks and overflows from all the surrounding buildings,
somewhere where the streets were still to narrow for automobiles,
she would pause in the tidal ebb of the unending flood of very small people with a limitless number of umbrellas
and she would try to remember how to count.
The sound of the interstate is like a river,
white noise constant with its own rise and fall,
waves or rapids or the surge from a sudden downpour
of diesel washing a steady flow of trucks ahead and forward and past this empty crossroads with the 200-ft. sign
and from the backdoor facing south with the sun setting like it always does on the right and the first stars of another night like always on the left,
she’ll smoke another More down to its filter,
the clatter of thick dishes being washed and
a jukebox version of another hit song behind her and
she’ll look south across an unimpeded plain of soybeans and cotton, of oil pumps and feedlots full of stumbling cattle,
a perfectly flat plain spreading out and away from all highway diners and all the way to Mexico,
just another place she’s never been.
Born a slave, she always served,
was so highly trained, so closely educated
as to preclude even the capacity to conceive of any life
other than service and
she was bred to beauty, to a certain proportion and
scale as to bring pleasure to her masters' eyes and
sometimes to their beds though
for the longest and the most number of days in the short years of her chattel-life she was ignored as a machine or an animal is ignored,
as a device or as one among identical many
is taken for granted.
But what her masters never saw or felt
was the small clear burning of her hatred
nor did they know that
what she brought them when she served them
at their table and at their bath,
whether on her belly or on her knees,
what she gave them was poison, always poison.


One time we went to the river
to play with guns and
I have a photograph now
of her
She is barefoot here
on a sparkley flat part
Her dress is unbuttoned
and hitched up around her waist
The pistol is level and she has one eye closed
Here is also
a paper target
I saved I think that is
pretty good shooting
This is us
and I can see her right away
but what was me
is very hard to recognize
We were on our way back east, which shows,
and resting on her friend Jackie's porch
Simone has good color and shows her fine leg
to outline my sulleness
My sister's wedding was so funny
and here's a picture of it:
Simone is laughing
which was always something to see
My smallest cousin is hugging her knees
They became a blur of
white clothing and obscure familial relationships
Somebody wrote it all down on the back
and it says "R. w/girlfriend & Shawna (age 4), 1983"
(stanza break)
(new stanza)
Though I once had many hundreds of photographs of her
I have lost them mostly not wanting
to see Simone as a picture
a place to hang upon
but so more important to remember the way
she sat bold on a white tub's edge
to wash thick blood from her thighs

Imaginary Syllabus

Masterson / “Imaginary Syllabus” / page 1

Robert Masterson
146 Mansion Avenue
Yonkers, New York 10704

Imaginary Syllabus for an Imaginary Class at an Imaginary College
Eng345 – Writing With Purpose
MWF 11:00 – 11:50 am / Room 324 Spittarn Hall
[The course is designed to build upon previously learned writing skills to provide the student with a renewed sense of intention and an appreciation for the varied communicative values of language.]

Spring Semester
Learn to bake bread
Fight, break up, and make up with a romantic partner
Eat something unfamiliar
Take something apart. put it back together, and make it work despite the leftover pieces
Watch the last of the ice in the gutter dissolve under the first warm rain
Explain a feeling to a stranger
Eavesdrop constantly
Read a paperback book at least 25 years old (especially one with a lurid cover)
Remember something forgotten
Drink to excess and experience remorse
Make a mask
Buy used shoes at a thrift store or flea market and wear them

Summer Semester
Wake up late
Try to attract songbirds to your home
Give up an advantage
Wear a t-shirt backwards and/or inside out all day
Assemble a model airplane, boat, or car
Slowly reread a favorite book from childhood
Eat cold food
Experiment with musical instruments
Eavesdrop constantly
Revisit a childhood playground
Wear shoes on the wrong feet
Learn the names of 12 stars

Masterson / “Imaginary Syllabus” / page 2

Fall Semester
Destroy a favorite possession
Explain centrifugal force to a child
Pick at a sweater
Go barefoot all afternoon
Smoke a cheap cigar
Call someone unexpectedly
Read outside until darkness makes it impossible to continue
Stare at a half-glass of vodka for at least 20 minutes
Imagine what it would be like to lose a limb
Eavesdrop constantly
Run laps around something
Do something that seems like a good idea at the time

Winter Semester
Wear a friend’s shoes
Learn a new game and play it obsessively
Compose a love letter and burn it
Consider the leafless trees
Eavesdrop constantly
Exacerbate a problem
Nurse a houseplant back to health
Experiment with smoking a pipe
Read someone else’s diary; don’t get caught
Say something awkward in public
In some fashion or another, go fishing
Sit by a window with a cheek pressed to the cold glass


Robert Masterson, professor of English at CUNY-BMCC in New York City, has authored Artificial Rats & Electric Cats, Trial by Water, and Garnish Trouble. His work appears in numerous publications and websites, and he holds degrees from the University of New Mexico; the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado; and Shaanxi Normal University, the People’s Republic of China.

Unknown / a fifth-wave feminist from the fourth estate | a burqueña | a ladyboss | a writer + editor

I am a fifth-wave feminist and a reluctant member⸺hey, Groucho knew whereof he quipped⸺of both the fourth estate and the gig economy. I am an Albuquerque-based freelance writer, editor and social media marketing and branding+PR consultant. I remain an observant ’90s riot grrrl and a devout practitioner of halfhearted yoga posturing and zen and the art of the sentence diagram.


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