Birthday, Anniversary, Sympathy, Blank
She thought of zoos in parks, how when cities were under siege, during world wars, people ate the animals.
—Lorrie Moore, “You’re Ugly, Too”
I go to market to buy every card I can think of
but they are out. The racks are empty & I can’t help
picturing a vacant zoo because the animals are eaten
because there’s a war on, & why people say
abattoir when they really mean slaughterhouse.
The clerk informs me, “We are not making cards anymore.
From now on it will be only singing microchips
and hologram cakes, a sexy dream downloaded
into the brain the evening before a big day.”
My order would be too late, anyway. It is your birthday
and they have you in Intensive Care, in the unit
a semiprivate. You think that sounds military & erotic.
Are you sure there are no cards left? “I’ll check,” the clerk says,
pickle-faced, slithering down his corridor of monitors.
A woman on one console goes on & on about satellites,
how every satellite has a pulse, & itinerants from other planets,
if they have hearts, will know what we are, what substance
is beating or brooking or conspiring against us.
Birthday, Anniversary, Sympathy, Blank.
I can’t ever pretend to browse but I somehow like the wall murals,
the idealized George Eliot & her self-possessed smirk,
I can’t remember a word from her novels,
have I finished any of them, here I am somewhere
between Adam Bede & Daniel Deronda,
and it’s your birthday & Intensive Care has you,
you are expiring & by now you are expired, I’ll have to
redirect the subscription & collect the insurance,
delete you from my database, laser out the tattoo,
scribble the obit, hock the potboilers with your name in them,
white-out the embarrassing marginalia,
suck dry the account, dishonor the ticket, unearth the certificate,
permanently pull the phone like a bad tooth,
chip down the initialed box elder, edit all anecdotes
to the first tense, chuck the leftover tangelos,
let the koi back into the pond, dump your cacti,
scissor your documents because the shredder’s broken,
let your memoirs fall into the bathwater so no one can read them,
think up replies to insults I could never answer,
donate your gabardines, find significance in our ultimate
exchanges, appease your creditors, & saw the futon in half.
There’s always the risk of an invitation finding its way to you,
not unlike the poor dead coffee heiress who got one decades later.
The naked guy sprints around the store,
a rabid mongrel loose in a Vatican.
Those who make us secure will arrive before my clerk.
If someone naked were arrested now would you laugh,
I’m not sure you would stick around for it to happen,
you never cared for surprises, & it’s
true, surprise parties were never a surprise to you,
you preferred saying I was invited instead of alive
Michael Tyrell is the author of the poetry collection The Wanted (The National Poetry Review Press, 2012) and co-editor, with Julia Spicher Kasdorf, of the anthology Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn (NYU Press, 2007). His poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Agni, The Best American Poetry 2015, Fogged Clarity, Iowa Review, New England Review, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and The Yale Review. Michael lives in New York and teaches writing at NYU.
This poem originally appeared in Gulf Coast.