Survived the Operation but Last night I dreamed
of the lion again, his mane curling
like sculpted stone. As usual,
he was wearing that sparkly, cone
shaped birthday hat, the one that turns
like an ambulance bulb and reads
Death. He holds me in each
golden eye. My heart’s a flavorful thing
and grows ever more savory. Who
can blame it? Imagine
eating and eating and still—empty.
Poor Death. It’s made out of Nothing and
So what’s it like
to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge
he asked—my brother asked—into
the face blown wavy as spit salt
and foam rinsed sand.
Hardly anyone lives he tells me,
my brother the paramedic dropped in
to visit, now skimming the morning news
for a story, maybe a few lines.
Funny, he says, the guy last night reeked
like the ones who come up dead.
It’s as if when they smack down
the skin shreds, the raw flesh drinks sea –
not the blue, frothy surfaced one we
dream of but ooze and oils, the old,
unwashed, death infected sea.
Well, those aren’t his words exactly.
But he does say the jumpers reek
as if—it sounds disgusting but—the sea
pushed through their pores. Today,
the morning after, nothing’s
in the news. He sets the paper down. So,
who knows if the guy pulled through?
Paramedics never hear. They move on.
Some years back, he says, statistics
toward a milestone, the one thousandth
jumper since the bridge went up
(that is, of those we know about).
Right then the CHP quit counting –or
anyway, they wouldn’t tell the press—
then resumed when someone sailed
past the mark.
Who needs all those dreamers
conveying their Saranwrapped last notes
to their deepest pockets, driving
the long, gray Bay Bridge
to the one whose cables swoop
and rise, the one we call “Golden”
(though the factory named that paint
Who needs them parking, strolling
the walkway, tearless, to blend
with the lesser Sad, to avoid
the watchman’s eye, then abruptly
hauling up and over, each one
hoping Nine Hundred Ninety Nine
went over just before?
It’s a job to try and talk them down,
a job for Coast Guards combing
through the waters, and for those called in
to collect what floated up.
They call it “blunt force trauma”—
crushed ribs and caved-in spleens.
They imagine hitting sleek as blades,
the dreamers, so they won’t come up at all.
Some don’t. And some swell like brine-
soaked sausages then roll, eventually,
onto the Farallen Island shores, thirty
miles out, where crabs trim them down.
But there was one jumper—Baldwin—
1985, who lived to tell the tale.
The instant he flew past the “chord,”
that beam—the last hard true thing
a jumper glimpses before air—he knew
every dumb mistake he’d ever made
could be fixed, except
this one. My brother stirs his coffee.
Breakfast things still settle on the table,
Though their end is growing near,
our beloved parents live. They must be
close by in that house my father bought
so many years ago, in those rooms.
The sea’s blunt force is trauma,
though it hardly seemed so then.
As seen through that first-floor window,
you’d think its smoky greyish blue
could breathe a man in whole and turn him
into that, bluish smoke and distance.
I love my brother—stupid to say that,
right, in a poem? So literal like
that, so banal? Then let’s say it’s not
a poem but a jump, four and one half
seconds from the bridge to the Bay,
and I’ve used up three. I love
my brother’s humor, that firefighter
kind, that paramedic kind—
call it “Dark Survivalist”— the comedy
of those who see death every day.
And what he tells me next, in the end,
makes us both laugh.
What happened? Did he answer?
My brother looked at the drowned one
still alive. The head gaped and lolled.
From nose and ears he bubbled like a toy.
He gibbered—Jim could hardly
make out what. Old Pepsi jingles, 80s
My brother leaned in and spied a clearing
in one eye.
So what’s it like to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge?
And the drenched one said—and who knows
if a clear word ever rose from him again—
he said, just before he seemed to unfold
inside himself like a diver and head
down, he said, just before his eyes
turned toward the sea and rolled
from sight, he said, looking
directly at my brother, man
to man, and by God right
from the horse’s mouth
if ever a horse’s
was, he said
it was awesome!
Second Round Knockout
So she’s watching the burned-faced
Mexican guy scraping the charred
scrubs of hamburger off the fry stove—
his arms like fire too; something
that happened long ago makes
a lacy pattern climb up through his sleeves.
It’s Carney’s—the old railroad car
turned into a diner. It’s eleven p.m.
Saturday again, Sunset Boulevard
again. The young and pretty
swish by in the new skirt styles
that wrap thin and shiny, tight
around the butt, then flower
two fat ruffles that end high.
Their dates wear black to look
cool as shade. Haircuts
stand on their heads short and spiky,
glossy in the streetlamp light.
She barely eats her fries, just five.
She breaks up the pad of chicken
with her fingers, buys a second Coke.
Each time she orders she stuffs
another dollar in the tip can—
maybe so they’ll let her stay.
Or maybe this is how it starts;
one by one she’ll give up
everything she’s got, then drive
out through the Mohave till
her car runs out of gas.
My God, once he could pull
those shots from realms
we have no name for, land them
with a hand-speed no one’d
ever seen and couldn’t then.
When his opponents tried to nail him,
their gloves just scrambled air
where the champ had been.
She liked how he’d drop his shoulders
then, wag them—
a taunting mating dance.
The man who runs this joint
gently pours her coffee for no charge.
She stuffs another One into the can.
At every jam-packed table, the young
gleam back and forth like proceeds
from summer movie hits,
as if to say ‘let’s finesse some more
premeditated steps towards endless
weekend love again!’. This place
reminds her she was here once long ago—
with some guy more boy than man, but
he had beauty. That fever
shot through air. It wasn’t like the fights,
like what happened to her boxer—what
smacked him down tonight. She kind of saw.
She halfway knew. She turned
straight into it.
So all that happened next was her fault.
The Lakers won
again. Each late-night snacker hums
the same revved-up happiness.
Only the calm white-haired man
who tends the register,
and the burned-face one who scoops
the sizzling fries, lifts them
through a swell of quiet
then onto rows of toss-out plates,
and she, seem somewhere else.
She’d loved this: how at that speed
those dazzling combinations,
lefts and undercuts, dead-on
rights, seemed a kind of dance
a man could die inside and
the death of beauty—but, then,
beauty’s died before.
From her little train car window
she watches lanes of high-priced
cars streaming toward the center
of more fun.
The way they pass and vanish
it’s as if the Boulevard’s
east end can’t stop this slow
and steadfast pour of blind
white lights, and west of here
the warm night melts them down.
It’s like she’s a kid again,
though not many cars drove winding
40 on the way to Donner Pass.
But sometimes she’d gaze straight up
into the softened light
through falling snow.
Suzanne Lummis is an influential poet and publisher, educator and arts organizer in Los Angeles, whose poems have appeared in The New Ohio Review, Plume, The Hudson Review, Ploughshares, Hotel Amerika, The Antioch Review, The American Journal of Poetry and The New Yorker. She’s written reviews and literary essays for The Los Angeles Review of Books, Malpais Review, and other journals and newspapers. As series editor of The Pacific Coast Poetry Series (Beyond Baroque Books), she edited the anthology Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, named one of the ten best books of 2015 by The Los Angeles Times. She teaches for the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and was the Mellon Foundation Institute for the Study of Los Angeles visiting poet at Occidental College, Spring 2017. Her web series, They Write by Night, produced by poetry.la, explores film noir, crime fiction, and writers who incorporate influences from those arts into their poetry.