Fall 2012, Volume 13

Poetry by Denise Duhamel


And when I finally kicked her out, she said, You are going to be a big success.  You know why? You don’t give a damn about who you hurt.  I’d borrowed money to pay for her abortion and was still paying it back. I covered her rent after she got herself fired.  I didn’t say anything about the sweater she returned smelly with a burn hole in the sleeve, or the way she erased my phone messages before I heard them, or her boyfriend who not only got her knocked up but ate my last piece of pizza which I was saving for dinner.  When she left, she took the shower curtain—our one joint purchase—the plastic hooks all shoved to one side of the rod like the bunch of cheap bracelets I used to wear.  She had borrowed those, too, along with my lipstick and fingernail clippers.  She seldom put anything back in the same place.  She was an addict, and I was addicted to order.  I need my sleep, I finally told her, after she crawled into bed with me four nights in a row to tell me about the latest fight with her boyfriend or some truly horrible thing that happened to her as a child.  She scared me awake with her sobbing, the way she clutched at the quilt on my twin bed.  Then he spit right in my face, she’d say.  Or I should have kept the baby.  We both had curly hair that clogged the drain.  The goopy water pooled at my ankles, splashing out onto the bathroom floor, past the mat, as I showered that first night alone, no curtain to hide my ambivalent delight and guilt, my confession, my naked ambition.


I carry the books, the groceries, the memory of you, my thick wallet, a frayed photo, Altoids, my water jug, my lipstick.  I carry myself well in some situations, not so well in others. I have never carried a gun though I have carried pepper spray and the blades of my keys jutting outwards just in case you were in the parking lot again.  I carry my shame for not getting away so long ago, though most days now it lifts, as though shame has turned into something beautiful with wings.  Sometimes I even try to imagine what you carried and if you still carry it.  Then I carry the baby, the boxes of Christmas ornaments, the trash to the bin.  I carry some things with great care, others with abandon.  I carry the flashlight, the suitcase, my sunglasses, heavy with the thought of others and what they must carry.

A Theory

She had a theory about happiness but was afraid to publish her theory—what if she was right, and everyone suddenly became happy?  She would be out of a job, since she was a therapist and her financial stability depended on her patients’ misery.  “Your theory could make you a very rich and famous woman,” said the therapist’s own therapist.  The therapist who was a patient this one hour a week clutched the arms of the comfy chair.  She couldn’t relax.  She couldn’t tell the therapist her theory for she might steal it.  “But then you’ll be out of a job,” the therapist said to her own therapist. “Don’t worry about me,” the therapist’s therapist said. “We are here to talk about you.” The therapist who was a patient said, “It’s not just you! All my friends who are therapists and ice cream vendors and drug manufacturers will be out of a job.  I just couldn’t do that to them.”  The therapist’s therapist clicked her pen open. “But don’t you see?  We’ll be happy anyway, because we’ll have your theory.”  The therapist sobbed, “Don’t you see?  It makes me sad to be happy.  It makes me sad to think of everyone else happy…” The therapist who was a patient sobbed—how delicious her anguish.  She felt happy as her therapist offered her a box of beautiful blooming blue Kleenex.




BIO: Denise Duhamel is the author of numerous books and chapbooks of poetry, including: Blowout (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013), Ka-Ching! (University of Pittsburgh, 2009), Two and Two (2005), and Mille et un Sentiments (Firewheel Editions, 2005). Her other books currently in print are Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh, 2001), The Star-Spangled Banner, winner of the Crab Orchard Poetry Prize 1999); Kinky (1997); Girl Soldier (1996); and How the Sky Fell (1996). She has also collaborated with Maureen Seaton on three volumes: Little Novels (Pearl Editions, 2002), Oyl(2000), and Exquisite Politics (Tia Chucha Press, 1997).

A winner of an National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Denise has been anthologized widely, including four volumes of The Best American Poetry (2000, 1998, 1994, and 1993).

She teaches creative writing and literature at Florida International University and lives in Hollywood, Florida.