Jacqueline Waters on "All Ears"

All Ears                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

First thing you go for is emotion, because people

can connect with emotion.

It's not true
but no one's heart is in it, it just lays there on the table,
overcome, refusing to do the job of its own redemption.

A seated audience
gives up the use of its legs while it listens.

Many also
lose awareness
of their mouths closed against the exhalation
that will accompany your instrument's
return to its resting place.

Your own pills, someone else's water.

You saw me coming, but you didn't lift a finger.

Little brains like nuts.

Who ate in some dump off the parkway.

Who chose, from among the fruit,
two bruised specimens.

Not everyone
is controlled by shame. More should be, but often we feel

too ashamed for them
to effectively shame them.

It's not true, but it's what science says, or should say, nor will any
science serve, the one we're ordering uses as analogy venereal disease
and drags forth into the light any sense of animal kinship that has not
by age thirty-five abated.

When you talk
you don't want to lie
but you don't
want to tell the truth
as you've actually calculated it.

The best way to hide something valuable is to hide its value.

I will keep saying, This is the way we have seen it, and I will brook no
response or argument. I will absolutely not change my mind, because it
is my mind, and my allegiance must be to it, or my words will have no
use to you.

To whom do the scientists give bananas? The very
useful monkeys.

People of the future, I resemble you
I am more sure of this than you
and yet you outlive me
(You've outsmarted me)

Centered in the display of pens
is a small paper pad
stuck to the rack for testing.

Generally squiggles, occasionally
the well-formed word.

I had spent the week working like a dog (which is not to
put down dogs).

Later just hanging around the house maybe soaking in some bullshit
postpartum herb bath.

Checking the stats on homeopathic galactagogues.

Friendships form as each person
finds the courage to memorize the alliance.
Its risks, its contours, the flaky ways you
earn and lose faith in each other adding up, over time,
into a grace: familiarity.

Suppose you use a line like, "I love you, but I don't really
know you."

Or, "Town is that way."

Like moving the head
a millimeter to see what the bars have been obscuring all along.
Two millimeters

and the next bar will obscure it.
One millimeter.

I've never liked going anywhere. I get nervous the moment before
leaving. Though I enjoy the planning.

I don't enjoy the planning, but I am drawn to it, which is
a type of enjoyment.

It was a rare farm. She flinched whenever something neared her ankle.
Pecked too close. Animals, animated by demands. An animal came up
and demanded her files. But they are my files, she said.

You won't get anywhere by protecting your materials.

You can judge people by the anecdotes that occur to them. You may as
well start asking, what's your most memorable story about a
laundromat? What humorous comment do you have about foreign
menus? You may as well start

forcing them out—these automatic emissions—
provoke the associations, initiate
the arc.

I felt like, maybe he was a phony. Maybe the feeling of being his friend
was the thrill of subjection to flattery. Oh you
, he'd say, you would say
that, and I'd laugh: complimented.

Don't wait 
on the threshold, don't 
come in the corridor.

have the fantasy,
the room 
at capacity.

Individuals will stop to see someone 
produce almost anything.

While crowds will press on and on 
through a pair of saloon doors 
they only partly control.

You're a great commander, believe in yourself.
You have my heart: you've earned it.

When you get to the top of the dogpile, stay there.
Even if all that entitled you to the top 
is a late arrival.

Pledge allegiance to late arrivals.

Do you find me knowledgeable, do I have the persuasive recall 
of a well-rested bookstore employee?

Now that I am a mother I grocery shop from other people's
carts if I need to.
Not if I need to.

I do it if I 
find myself doing it.

So they're blockading highways
threatening to blow up milk plants  
derail milk trains even
beat milkpeople unconscious
crash bottles of milk together
just to assure
a fair and stable
price for milk.

I am alone in this room where someone has left me a fan turned high
aimed at my form feigning sleep by a thermos of water. I am
almost never alone. I am never alone without


We have to get this project launched before the announcement. So you
can see our problem here. Plans weren't delivered till last night. And
none of the documents will open.

I can see your problem there. Clients get angry. Businesses go under.
It's a crime. It's really just criminal that they can do that. And then you
have no choice: you have to shop there because it's where you shop.

I was investigating the—You're just going to eat a roll! You can save
calories like that. By thinking of it as an empty sandwich. Slicing it but
just putting it back together and

eating it out of your own hand.

Now I feel something.

Something biting me.

It's just the wind—It pricks, he says. That's the way
the wind is here.

That's what's up with the wind.

To make a story a story, some event from the past
must intrude into the present.

A story about the taking of a trip.
The discarding of something
found in the luggage after the trip.

A story about a funeral? I pictured a bigger house 
and better food
when the caller told me 
he'd died. Instead this cheap

late-afternoon spread, plastic forks upended
in a paper cup, cut celery sticks

dried out at both ends
and not even meant as a metaphor.

People of the future, I resemble you.

Like you, I wear in my heart what I read.
Like you, I didn't eat it because 
I was hungry, I ate it 
because other people were hungry.

You want to feel like a voice is talking to you
but not
as at a séance
cooperating with you.

This is just 
a circulation notice, please do not reply
or call branch, or anyone, no one wants
to pick up a phone, it's like
touching your ear to the worst slice
on a chore wheel.

In cynicism, we believe that kindness 
comes from sickness, understanding

from fear of differing, and compassion 
from self-obsession

and this made your caring
feel solicitous, and my movement away from you
a tunneling under to truth.

If I can ascribe you 
these motivations, I can 
devalue your love 
which frees me to seek 

more, elsewhere,
and to capitalize on the attributes 

you discovered in me, named, called good,
and convinced me I had—

that another, or all others,
would love my body
as you did, and that hands on me
would feel the same, and I could choose another,

a better,  someone I put 
above me in this world, whose success I could ride along on

whose illustriousness 
would seep onto me 
by proximity

that I may at last communicate emphasis
without dependence on vehemence.

A lament, she called it, and said to notice what you envy,
because it's what you need to grieve for, and it's what you'll receive
once you do.

I envy my neighbor in his garden wailing


that the fasteners could not hold,
nor could the top, bottom or sides,
and form is leaking.


If those aren't bites, then my only souvenir here is the shame 
of my irritation.

And though I've incorporated it, I haven't quite
brought it to bear

on the decisions I need to make

regarding the future 
and my suitcase

a roll-aboard I pull along
though the wheels 
choke on the carpet's pile.


On "All Ears"

Sometimes I think I've fallen prey to a client-server model of consciousness. Like I'm a web server and everything around me is a hit, an ask, a demand. I send back a slow-loading web page with a pile of paragraphs and some assets. I send back errors, evasions, interjections. Or I get the hit and I have nothing, I just stand there numb, counting seconds. Maybe I'm resting. It's very hard to stay open all day to the input. There is all this mixed-up touching and it's hard to figure out what touched what and why. I still don't really know why I'm so furious with my friend whose funeral is in this poem. It's been a few years, but on Facebook he had enough distant acquaintances that a bunch of people continue to wish him a happy birthday every year. "Another successful turn around the sun!" said a recent message.




Continue browsing In Their Own Words