Two Poems by Michael O'Keefe

BOMB 30 Winter 1990
030 Winter 1989 90

The Woman I Am With

I enter the room and lie down quickly.
Backpedaling through the doorway
My calves strike the bed, bending my
knees for me and giving the woman I am
with an opportunity to stand over me
and say “Oh.”

I see you in the doorway to the
bedroom. You are leaning on your right
shoulder smoking a cigarette.
With a bitter flick of ash you ask
“Is it nice, Mick?”

“Yes,” I say. But as I do it
loses its niceness. Observation is
the bane of intimacy, ask any actor.
The woman I am with says “Yes, yes”
and moves on top of me
pushing me up the bed, kissing me into
the headboard.

You take out a violet lipstick, unscrew
the top and carefully color your lips.
You come over to me and then blend
into me and kiss this woman for
yourself, for me, for us.

The woman I am with
senses your presence and pauses.
She quickly convinces herself it’s
just me.

You take a seat by the window
and nod your head as if to say
“Fuck her.” and I do.

She comes quickly, speaking a language
I have never heard.

I glance to your chair but you’re not
there.

The woman I am with takes me out
to the balcony. She is wearing sunglasses
and looking at the moon.

I enter her from behind and she
says, “I love it.”
I am scared that the word love will be
followed by ‘you’ and I am
relieved to hear ‘it’ instead.

In the park across the street
You rise from a pond and whisper,
“I love you. I love you. I love you.”
and you begin walking towards
me.

I wish for the woman I am with to
jump and take me with her
but she is lost in moonshine.
You cross to the doorman of her
building. Stand behind him and
whisper, “love, love, love.”

Later, during a calculated goodbye.
The woman I am with says,
“Call me.”

I say, “I will.” meaning it

You say, “Never happen.” and stay
behind to commiserate.

I am mumbling your name as the
elevator door opens. You are
standing in the corner of the elevator.
You are wearing a green leather jacket.
Your hand is on the elevator operator’s
shoulder.

I look at him and I say, “Lobby.”
As we head down you step over to
me, remove your lipstick case, color
my lips in violet, open your coat
pocket and I come there.

The elevator stops on the fifth floor
and you get off winking at me
and I start to cry.

The elevator man might’ve missed you too
if he had known you were gone
but we proceed anonymously down.
We stop. I am frozen. He says, “Sir, lobby.”
and I get off.

I leave the building with my
hands thrust deep in my pockets.
Shoulder hunched against a
northerly winter wind. You are
across the street walking with a
purpose. You ignore me.

I pretend to ignore you but as you
are about to round a corner
and disappear from view you
point at a movie poster on a
wall. I pause and read:
“Mick.” The title bears my name.
The picture is of a woman
pointing at the moon. She is
wearing a green leather coat, sunglasses
and violet lipstick.

I quickly hail a cab, jump in
and say, “21st & 9th.”

“You loved her, didn’t you?” the cabbie says.
She is a black woman in her
overweight sixties. There is an old
Robert Johnson blues tune on the
radio, Down to the Crossroads.
The cabbie says, “You just seen
a ghost or what?”

I say nothing.

“What was her name?” the cabbie says.
“Yeah. This city will kill you if love doesn’t.
Why don’t you forget her? Or at least
forgive her. She can’t hurt you none
lest that’s what you want.”

Just then another cab passes
and cuts us off. My cabbie curses
and I look up to see the back of
your head as the cab pulls away.

We arrive at 21st and the cabbie says,
“$44.50.”

I say, “For the ride or the advice?”

She says, “Keep it.” and I
walk down 21st corrupt with
disappointment.

I enter my house and recognize
the smell of fresh paint. I
open the inner door and find
you kissing a younger woman. She
might be nineteen.
I stand, barefoot and breathless.
You say, “Now.”
I say, “Yes.” and the girl comes
and cries, “No.”

I barely manage to walk to the kitchen
where there are three cups waiting.
I pour one, two, three. I take
one to drink you take the other
two and as you walk away you
flip your hair away from your eyes
look over your right shoulder and
say, “Liar.”

You lay the woman you are with
down in a garden. I watch
looking out for recognition or forgiveness
and you look over to me and say,
“Liar.”

And I nod, “Yes.” Think, “No.”
and wonder, “Why?”

You walk the long yellow hall
up the stairs into my arms and
say, “Liar.” and the room bursts into
flames.

I am suddenly tired and lie
down to dream.

I dream it all over again only
this time you never look me
in the eyes.

The fire is pale and
destroys everything around me.
I am left untouched.

I wake, relieved to be alone.
I am under newspaper on a
bench in an unremarkable park
surrounded by snow and pigeons.
I walk to a subway and
walk through a turnstile
sideways using no token.

A voice comes over the speaker
announcing, “Last stop in Manhattan.”
The voice is yours and I
start to wander the car
looking for you.

I pass a small Korean woman
wearing a jacket paid for with
stolen lottery tickets.
She knows I am looking for you
and points to the operator
room. “Ask for her there,” she says.

I knock and you emerge. The
train barrels out of
a tunnel onto an El and
light pours into the car like
milk into coffee.

You push me into a seat
I say, “What did you want?”

You say, “Everything. I wanted
you. I wanted your child. We would’ve
named him Jack. His first steps
would’ve been over the shoes you
always left at the foot of the
bed. We’d have walked him down
streets laced with junkies
feeding him chocolate from
my breasts and leaving no trace behind.
He would’ve never
lied and you would’ve loved him
like licorice at the movies.
He’d have stuck to the back of your teeth
and everything you saw would
remind you of his sweet taste.”

I look to you. I look to the floor.
I raise my head and there is a
two-year-old on your lap. He has
your eyes. They look like stolen
jewels packed in ice protected by
the clouds. He smiles and as he
does the lights in the sky go out
and we ride the tracks like the
Cyclops at Coney.

He looks at me and starts to rap
like a black boy wearing stupid gold:

“The train and I clickety-clack.
Mom’s just a monkey on daddy’s back.
Dad’s a junkie, mom’s a saint.
I’ve been better but then who ain’t.
Listen people I’ll wail a tale
of fame, profit and reasons pale.
I’m the child of the people who
don’t know each other and think that’s cool.
Everywhere my daddy turns
momma’s there with looks that burn.
Hear his heart like breaking glass.
Hear it crushed as I shuffle past.
Ain’t this something the shape we’re in.
Daddy’s dreams are killing him.
I would stop him but I must say
I think my Dad likes it this way.
When you think I’ve gone too far
just push me off this subway car.
When you think I’m jivin’ you
raise your right hand and swear I do.
I’ll be here you will too.
We’re all just dreams dreamed by you.”

I look out of the car and notice nothing
familiar.
Coney Island seems closed and as I
glance back, you are alone.
Accusing me of something you stop
the train.
I follow you and say, “What,
tell me. What?”
You quicken your pace and
light a cigarette. You pull
away from me and turn a corner.

I follow but I am
crushed against the wall by
an oncoming crowd who are
headed for the ocean as if it
were a subway car.

I search the horizon for
anything that will relieve me.
All I can see is you.

You walk through the sun.
The light folds into night.
You kiss me and I lose my eyes and sight.
You touch my forehead
and I place my hand over a
burning flame.

You are the night and you are
wrapped around me as if I were the moon.
There is no apology.
And when you walk away I realize
I will never know your smile again.
You will always be the woman I am
with.


A Popular Myth

There’s something wrong with popularity.
Not that I don’t like being liked—I do.
Not that I am jealous of other people’s
successes—I am.

It’s the tendency of popularity to make the
most significant of ideas look like spaghettio’s
on a plastic plate.
Recently spirituality is making a popular
comeback.

Let me be the first to say I’ve used
it as a quick way to take the pants off a
romance or two. Forgive me.

But listen—I can’t stand this
reincarnation craze.

If one more person informs me of their
life as an Aztec Shaman, Princess of the Pyramids,
Celtic Warlord, Buddhist Lama, Queen Blah
Blah, King Whosit or American Indian Chief
I mean it’s the ease with which these people
have made their discovery.

I doubt the terms of their recollections.
Where are the rapists of yesteryear?
Certainly not at my elbow pushing down

a Vodka Martini and assuring me of
their enlightened perspective even if they are
convinced that all men are assholes.

So how do I reconcile
my own reincarnation experience?
I can’t shake the horrific regularity
of this vision.

 

It is 1917. I am in Germany. My name is Marrisa
and he wants to hurt me. I don’t
know why but I can see the hurting
in his eyes. “Come here.” he says
and I do. “Take my hand.” he says
and I do. These are things a daughter is
expected to do when her father asks
so I do them. But when he forces me
onto the ground inside of the family
barn and begs me to slap him I can’t.
He hits me and screams “Slap me.” I do.
By now I am crying and he is
taking his cock out and he forces
through my undergarments and rapes me
repeatedly.

I am seventeen years old.
I have lost my innocence to a farmer who’s
raised me, raped me and left me to bleed
on the boards of a barn in winter, Germany, 1917.
This is not something I want to share.
It’s something I believe.
I can’t help but wonder if that’s
why I’ve never felt comfortable
with my sexuality.
I can’t help but believe the power of
this idea. Fact or Fantasy. It seems
irrelevant now that I’ve admitted it
into my conscious time.

Who do I see about this?

Is there really a transference experience
waiting for me in some analyst’s office?

Who do I see about this? God.

And if indeed cause and effect are one
what did I do to deserve this?
And do I really want to know?
And if it is not a fact, what did I do
to deserve thinking like this?
And where does this end?
A long line of incidents
tragic or happy, happening to no one
just incidents, just happenings.
Is it that simple? And do
I really want to know?

Who do I see about this?

Michael O’Keefe is an actor. He was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe award for his performance in The Great Santini. His other films include Split Image, Ironweed, Bridge to Silence, and the soon-to-be-released Fear. He just completed shooting an untitled murder mystery. Mr. O’Keefe performs his poetry with Poetry in Motion, an LA-based poetry group.

Two Poems by Michael O'Keefe
Related
Two Poems by Atar Hadari

Elegy for the Harris Theatre

At Forty Second Street before the changing of the light
and bus station at Eighth there was a movie house: a pit

Max’s Notebook by Guy Gallo

Accidental Rain

There was a brief moment once, as we reached the apex of the Manhattan Bridge, when the setting sun pierced the thin opening between rain clouds and horizon, casting the Westward side of Wall Street into a sudden blood orange glow, while the Eastern edges were all still and grey and pounded by black rain.

Spit It Out: Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats by Daniel Lefferts
117710453 08252017 Beach Rats Film 01

Sexual panic in South Brooklyn

Originally published in

BOMB 30, Winter 1990

Featuring interviews with Mary Gaitskill, Carroll Dunham, Richard Price, Eduardo Machado, Sarah Charlesworth, Jane Campion, Fay Weldon, Anish Kapoor, Atom Egoyan with Arsinée Khanjian, Katell le Bourhis, and Jonathan Lasker.

Read the issue
030 Winter 1989 90