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Separate Yet Related Poems
by Ruth Fankushen

The Mouse Inside Me

The night before last, I went up a remote hill to a public building where a casting call was in progress. There were lots of beautiful young girls inside. I knew some of them and some I did not know. We all waited in a room with a black leather couch. The director came in. She was youngish and strong. She pointed to a few of the girls saying, "You and you and you." I held my breath, "and you."
     "Me?"I asked meekly. "No, her,"she said. Then she walked away.

When I got the message that Harry was dying, I got on my bike and rode to his small wooden house. He was only forty. When I arrived, he told me that he wanted to listen to a Glenn Gould concerto but that he didn't have any equipment on which to play his tape. I went in search of the gear.
     I asked local merchants for donations. People were very generous. After an hour or two, I had enough money to buy Harry a fine set-up. He listened to his music. Then he faded away. I had really loved him.
     From there, I went to stay with the Goldfarbs. They had known Harry, and they understood grief. I brought along my pet bug. It was an enormous cockroach, the size of a Frisbee, and I thought it extremely lovable. Fay Goldfarb also had a pet bug. Hers was a very small, normal-sized bug. It looked like a fly with white stripes. She asked me if I could put her fly to sleep. Fay showed me the special little cage where her bug usually slept.
Before making her bug sleepy, I would have to catch it. Complicating matters, my own bug began to fly. It whizzed past my face, away from me. I decided to let it go because I had promised to put Fay's bug down for the night and to tuck it in.
     While I was running around the room, I thought of Harry. I wondered if I might be infected with whatever it was that had killed him. We had been very close.
     Just then, I saw Fay's fly zip off to the bathroom. I followed it into the enormous lavatory. I could not be sure, but I got the feeling that the bug wanted to be with me in private.

I was to be in a parade with losers. It was almost time for us to march, but we couldn't get it together. We had no leader.
     I bent down to hem the pants of three men. Their black polyester uniforms were frayed at the bottoms. I did my best but some threads came loose and trailed around their ankles.

Attempting to kill myself, I jumped off what I thought was a cliff. I slid, stumbled and fell with a box of jewelry. When I hit the bottom I felt surprised and annoyed that I hadn't even scratched myself. I had fallen against the muddy side of a drained lake.
     My best friend approached and so I hid, filthy, behind a concrete block. She yelled down to me, "I see you. Come up here!" After a moment she added, "Oh, forget it. I'm leaving."


I was in class working on a group project. One of my project mates was Raul. I watched him and liked him as we rearranged text on an overhead projector. He didn't seem particularly interested in me.
     Ralph Vogel from elementary school was also in the class. He approached me and I could tell that he was attracted to me. Each time we met, we chatted about our young days. We often had lunch together. We both got A's on all of our tests, although he sometimes received an A-.
     Ralph was handsome. He expressed that he wanted to be more than friends. I thought of all the reasons that it'd be great. He was smart, good-looking, he cared about me, etc. But I kept thinking about Raul. He was clown-like and very exciting.
     I ended up telling Ralph about all of my
bad points. I leaned against the new school
building coming up with crap like, "You know how Woody Allen is always so full of hostility and mistrust? Well, that's me. I mean, like who are your friends? Are they Nazis? I mean, do they appreciate Jews?"
     Ralph nodded with understanding. Then he said softly that there might be a problem. "My friends do like to eat kidneys and livers."
     We got onto the yellow school bus. I crouched up front with my driver friend, a gentle and strong man. I asked him to take me home.
     I glimpsed Ralph several rows back. He was looking out the window.

I am with my mother, and she is like a goddess. There is music in the background and there is danger.
     My mother straps a little black plastic box to me, around my dress. "This will enable you to breathe during your long journey under the water, into the dark reaches of the sea. It will be black and cold but keep going."
     I see myself swimming like a little witch, pumping my way down, down, down into the water. I begin to miss my mother, but I do as she instructs.

Monkeys groom one another. Some eat the red, needle-like bottlebrush. A scientist sits beneath their tree holding his notebook. He has taken a break from his observations in order to witness a greater phenomenon: He can cry.

I visited a drugstore where an old woman worked. I asked for candy-flavored lozenges. The woman asked me if I wanted five pieces or twenty-five pounds. I said "five pieces please."
     As I stood there, I told her that I'd been ill with a bladder infection. She asked me with a grin if I was sure. I answered "yes."
     But really, I wasn't sure.

I sat on a barstool next to Sigmund Freud. We were part of a larger group at a convention. Sigmund drank the last of his beer, hopped off his stool, and told me that he'd try to make it to dinner. As he was leaving, he said that he wanted me to prepare for the meeting.
     "And don't forget to tell me what you do with all that Number Two,"he joked.
     "Number Two?"I asked.
     "Yes, you know,"he said, "Number Two."
     Then he had to go.
     Sigmund didn't make it to the dinner. We were all very disappointed. Earlier in the day, at the bar, he had taken a great liking to my friend Sandy. She told me in private that she thought he was sweet.
     "Shucks,"said Sandy.
     "I guess it just wasn't meant to be,"I said. Then I paused and said it again.

In her clown outfit, with the word "Unloved" written across her forehead, she jumped from the trapeze landing. She had received word that the net was faulty.
     The injuries she incurred, however, were not fatal. But her spinal cord was severed and she would never perform again.

I felt that I saw Matt Dillon from the inside out. That is, I felt as if I could feel his feelings. He worked with beautiful women and he appreciated each one. I don't know why his behavior hurt me. Maybe I loved him.
     I watched Matt eat dinner with his current lover, a cast member with short hair. He enjoyed her but he glanced at other people in the fancy restaurant. Two days later, he was with someone new. The short-haired woman was all but forgotten and he seemed truly happy.
     Early in the morning, Matt went to an indoor swimming pool where he held a side job. As I watched him from behind a post, I wondered why he had to work there. After a moment or two, I figured that some dark part of him needed expression.
     The guy in charge was foul-mouthed and low-brow. He had a skinny assistant. As they spoke with Matt, I noticed that he was again distracted. "Who's that?"He motioned with his hand. "She's from Eastern Europe,"the skinny man answered. She dove into the pool, and Matt quickly followed her. He couldn't help it. He was compelled. You understand.
     The swimming pool room had an old domed ceiling. Crusty, dark and crumbling, the echoey building was filled with life.
     I know that Matt Dillon's experiences aren't my own, but I am affected. I feel things.

Tonight's Top Story: "People Who Live with Mice in Their Bellies."
     I watched television. How could anyone eat a live mouse? And how could that mouse stay alive once swallowed? It was preposterous. I doubted the story was true, and I felt queasy just thinking about it.
     Suddenly, the mouse-eater appeared. She sat alone in a field. She had an androgynous haircut. I looked at her belly and tried to detect movement. Was that a bulging, twisting lump I saw?
     Looking into the camera, she explained that she eats mice because she feels like no one will ever love her. "I look like a man and I live on a farm,"she said.
Apparently, when she's not eating live mice, she is trying either to eat her own foot or she's stuffing herself into the toilet.
     Her brother, a swarthy man, also has this condition.

I saw a woman I couldn't stand at the airport.
     She looked very pretty in a soft beige dress with her longish hair. She fumbled with her bags like she was busy. I could tell she wanted to avoid me, but I talked to her anyway.
"I'm so glad to see you. You know, the other night I was thinking that out of everybody you were the one person I wanted to see and talk to most of all. I just wanted to say that I really hope everything in your life goes well. I've got a lot of respect for you. Honestly, I think you're an incredible person. I wish that we had been friends."
     She looked up at me from her crouched position. Later that day, I would describe her expression as confused yet touched.

Conclusion of Polar Bear Report
     Polar bears are an endangered species. I think everyone should be concerned about them. They are the most graceful of the bear family. Polar bears are my favorite bears because like peace, they are big and solemn. In my report I have covered the polar bear's characteristics, hibernation facts about the polar bear, the environment around it, the polar bear's background, and whatever else you might want to know about this remarkable Arctic animal.
     Before I did this report, I really didn't know anything about polar bears. I didn't realize the danger they are in of becoming extinct. I'm really glad that I learned about the polar bear because it is always nice to know more than someone else about a particular subject.

A man was giving a lecture. He was trying to turn everyone on to spirituality. Not of any particular denomination, he was thin and looked like anyone. He tried to get us to feel something. He used a popular song and commercial jingles to rouse us.

There was a woman who feared that she would never really look or feel magnificent.
She dreamt about wearing a strapless dress and about having smaller breasts so that she'd look "in proportion." She fantasized that someone applied her makeup and that someone else cut her hair.
     As it stood, the woman was not ugly, yet her clothes were ill-fitting. When she looked at other, more put-together women, she felt as if they belonged to a whole other species, apart from her own.

Email: rfankushen@yahoo.com

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