Monday, January 30, 2006


What natural or man-made wonders will we
Prospect in those crevasses and gulleys,
Boulders blotted blue as soggy lilacs
With lichen and cloud shadow? It’s all free:
So dive a palm down into warm valleys
Of cushion, sift through crumbs, lint, and old snacks.
Ore shed by decades of simple couch life:
Dental floss, Scrabble vowels, such nostalgia!
Monopoly hat, racy red brassiere,
Condom wrapper, super ball, pocketknife;
Star Wars action figure (a lost Jawa),
A fist of loose change, enough for a beer,
Proof that nothing in life gets very far:
The mother lode, an unopened Mars bar.


Monday, January 23, 2006

"Read it again!" someone shouted.
As the laughter continued, Ben re-scanned the napkin's scrawl.
Four lines of blank verse. Mostly iambic. Elliptical structure—at least the author had some sense of form. But otherwise totally opaque.
"I am," he read aloud. "We taught it." Pause. "I am Sofa King," he continued. "We taught it." That was it.
But the ensuing roar from the assembled—tattoo-mottled biker types—gave Ben a chilling sense of ritual, perhaps a gang invocation to a beating.
"Again," said the huge guy on the musty purple couch, possibly the Sofa King himself. "Go ahead."
"I am. We taught it." Ben swallowed. "I am Sofa King. We taught it."
Pitiless guffaws sent ice up his spine.
They had tolerated him thus far, these hard guys who hung out at the dim Oakland drug flat Ben began frequenting after flubbing his orals and losing interest in Chaucer, grad-school, and life. From his first visit, he'd known to keep his mouth shut, no matter how his cortex sang with coke-fueled loquacity. These guys could smell bourgeois. They knew he was a punk-ass college-boy. The beard, Newports, and conscientious double negatives hadn’t fooled anyone. Now was his comeuppance.
"Again!" someone yelled.
Ben repeated from memory. "I am. We taught it. I am Sofa King. We taught it."
Ben felt himself leave his body. "I am. We taught it. I am Sofa King. We taught it."
He said it three more times, the room receding, air getting thinner.
"I am, we taught it…" He heard himself abstractly, through the ears of a stoned or half-interested biker.
"Sofa King, we taught it…"
Then it clicked.
Ben gasped. Then laughed—explosively, doubling over, squinting as he did at the guy next to him, who was extending a golden can of St. Ides.


Monday, January 16, 2006

The Settee of Iniquity,
Colonel Cochran would
call it, or perhaps the Divan
of Abomination, though the
colonel wouldn't know a divan
from a chaise longue from
a hole in his ass.

He'd sit pantless in the
middle of the sofa digging
in its crevices, searching for
loose pennies and dimes with
his right hand, holding a copy
of Spinoza's Ethics in his
left, reciting bits aloud.

God, or substance, consisting
of infinite attributes, of which
each expresses eternal and infinite
essentiality, necessarily exists.
Then, PHOOEY! and off he'd go
to Fayette County, still pantless,
with a chicken for Miss Jessie.


Monday, January 09, 2006

I had gone back home to Baltimore with my boyfriend. It was Christmas, or Thanksgiving, and my boyfriend was allergic to dogs. So, as my mother had two dogs at the time, we stayed with my mother's friend, this woman with the loudest voice you have ever heard, a woman I had never liked, and will never like, ever since the time she loudly mimicked our Chinese waiter at the Golden Dragon on Liberty Road when we were all there celebrating someone's birthday or graduation or whatever. What's more is her husband drank his soup instead of using his spoon, and my mother's friend screamed out, You were not raised in a barn, and then my brother threw up on the table from the MSG, and that, thankfully, was the end of that night.

On the way home, my brother lying across the back seat clutching his head, I told my mother that I couldn't stand her friend, and I called her a racist, but my mother convinced me that though, yes, her friend was, in fact, a bit of a racist, she was also a damn good friend who was there for her after the divorce, etc., and she reminded me of this, again, when I was visiting twenty or so years later with my boyfriend, when I bitched about having to stay with her friend, and my mother called me ungrateful and said her friend had even gone out of her way to stock her refrigerator with vegetarian things for me and my pain-in-the-ass allergic boyfriend. So be good, she said. Well, the vegetarian things, I must say, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, turned out to be, like, not even vegetarian. Like, there were these hotdogs made of chicken or something, which, in my opinion, was still meat. Anyway, it didn't matter, because it felt weird to be walking around the kitchen at night, in a strange house, when everyone else was asleep, and we could hear her husband snoring, and it was impossible not to laugh.

We were staying in the basement, and it was really cold down there, and, as it snowed that week and hard, we spent most of our time in that freezing basement, where there was, thank God, cable TV, and this hideous couch on which I slept. My boyfriend, much taller than I, slept on the floor. Anyway, what's important is that the basement was starting to depress us, all those crooked framed photos of their blank-faced kids, some yellowed diplomas, half a set of the encyclopedia Britannica, and so our last night there, we sneaked down a bottle of peppermint Schnapps from the makeshift liquor cabinet in the kitchen and drank nearly the whole damn thing, and my boyfriend fell asleep almost immediately. I was drunk, but not tired, and watched TV, and I managed, somehow, to find some porn, and I watched it from that pathetic couch. I could hear my boyfriend breathing, and this woman was on the TV having sex with two guys at once, and what's more important is I was sitting there, like any dumb pervert, like any old fuckup, a drink in my hand, the TV flashing on my face, sitting on this hideous couch in a hideous basement in the hideous Baltimore suburbs, feeling a type of power I had never, before this, felt.


Monday, January 02, 2006

They sat on the couch. They talked about movies. She had seen Sideways on cable and enjoyed it. He asked if she would like some wine. Yes, she said. That would be nice.

While he was getting the wine, she thought about the couch. It looked like a craft project. Had it come from a kit? Maybe he had found it online. Why not, she thought. She had found him online.

The couch reminded her of firewood which reminded her of her childhood. And of the time her father had gone to get firewood from the porch and chased away a strange man who was lurking there. She remembered her father telling her mother what had just happened. Throughout her life she thought about the man on the porch. Who was he? What was he trying to do? What would have happened if her father hadn't gone outside for the firewood? Often her imagination assigned celebrity faces to the man on the porch. During her high school years he was frequently Duff from Guns and Roses. With their talk just now of Sideways she started to picture the man on the porch as Paul Giamatti.

Her date returned with the wine. She thought about how her life had led her here, to the man with the wine and the unusual couch. They toasted. She drank, thinking about the future and about the couch, her father, the man from the porch, Paul Giamatti and Duff.