Suzanne Lummis


Survived the Operation but Last night I dreamed

                                               St. Valentine  |  Albert Esquer  

                                             St. Valentine  |  Albert Esquer  

 

 

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

                                            nothing’s enough.


 Jump

 

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

starting climbing—hurdling—

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

“Vermillion Orange”).

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

sit-com scores…

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                                                                      

mouth there

was, he said

Dude,                                                                                     

           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

hardly mind.

                                And tonight:

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.