I used to have helpfulness tacked onto me
like a fake string tail on a mangled dog.
Wag, wag, wag went my nerveless appendage:
If I give you something, will you like me?
Watch me make you happy!
Here’s a dry stick for you!
I fetched it off the ash heap.
Here’s a dead bird.
There! Aren’t I good?
Here’s a gnawed bone,
it’s my own,
I took it out of my arm.
Here’s my heart, in a little pile of vomit.
Was it my fault you were angered
by the world news? That you bad-mouthed God
and banking, and in addition the weather?
That you sulked all day and were vicious
to your mirror, and also
to the girls at checkout counters?
That you thought sex was a mess?
I did my best. Wag, wag
went my tail of string.
Have some drool and mud!
Admire my goodwill! It clings
to the soles of your boots
like soft pink melting jelly.
Here, take it with you!
Take everything, and then I’m free;
I can run away. I’m blameless.
You can have the string tail, too.
How did I get so dutiful? Was I always that way?
Going around as a child with a small broom and dustpan,
sweeping up dirt I didn’t make,
or out into the yard with a stunted rake,
weeding the gardens of others
– the dirt blew back, the weeds flourished, despite my efforts –
and all the while with a frown of disapproval
for other people’s fecklessness, and my own slavery.
I didn’t perform these duties willingly.
I wanted to be on the river, or dancing,
but something had me by the back of the neck.
That’s me too, years later, a purple-eyed wreck,
because whatever had to be finished wasn’t, and I stayed late,
grumpy as a snake, on too much coffee,
and further on still, those groups composed of mutterings
and scoldings, and the set-piece exhortation:
Somebody ought to do something!
That was my hand shooting up.
But I’ve resigned. I’ve ditched the grip of my echo.
I’ve decided to wear sunglasses, and a necklace
adorned with the gold word no,
and eat flowers I didn’t grow.
Still, why do I feel so responsible
for the wailing from shattered houses,
for birth defects and unjust wars,
and the soft, unbearable sadness
filtering down from distant stars?