Chapbook: Taking Drugs To Write Poems To Take Drugs To

poems by Brian Thedell
(all up that I’m putting up by July 16, 2021, God willing)

California

California—of all the men, you’ve broken my heart the worst.
When I was eight, the coolest Trapper Keeper covers were photos of you.
Everyone talks like you, these days.

California—you look more and more like Vancouver on TV, Netflix.
You speak Spanish with a thick Asian accent.
You ruined my attention span.

California—I am sorry; none of us deserve you.
See my foot on this petal? On freeways, I pray to you.
Stop hoarding movie stars and Nobel Laureates, though.

California—Win one for the Gipper!
No justice, no peace.
We’ve run out of continent.

California—Everyone hates you, feels superior, but except for New York they’re all just jealous, though.
Fuck the Louisiana Purchase.
I’m afraid of Americans.

California—I love your silver and celluloid, your ones and zeros.
Hollywood.
Silicone Valley.

California—wait! They don’t love you like I love you.
Can I charge it?
I serve penance in your traffic jams.

California—I still love you, after all these years.
When are you going to tell her? Or even yourself?
In my hospital room after six weeks in a coma, I could see your Pacific.

California—I woke up this morning and got myself a gun.
I can forgive you, but I cannot forgive them.
You are too good for America, anyway.

California—Not even earthquakes, plagues, and floods could stop us.
Let’s get high and do a little Manifest Destiny.
Kill them all. Fuck it—kill them all! The horror!

California—our California who are in California, nothing be thy name.

California—your name comes from a 16th Century Spanish lesbian pulp fiction novel.
All the California boys, the California men, their on-ramp thighs.
I heard him moan like an 18 wheeler’s engine on the midnight 405.

California—have you any dreams you’d like to sell?
A million dollars for a kiss, fifteen cents for your soul.
What ever did happen to Norma Jean?

California—I worry Celebrex will give me a heart attack.
I don’t have a choice because of the arthritis.
And the coma.

California—no one understands that I AM Polythene Pam!
The love that you take is written across the Hollywood sign.
Hold my hand while we jump off the Golden Gate.

California—your cool is the only thing in this world China and India can’t manufacture.
Half of you was made in China, though.
Also, your Chinese railroad tracks.

California—I am waiting for your comeback tour.
Everyone goes straight to the beach when they first move here.
I don’t know how to end this poem.

California—seal me up in those movie studio fridges, with ancient rotting film stock.
Ansel Adams’ Yosemite prints probably won’t last another 100 years.
If you use platinum instead of silver, an analog print can last forever.

California—like a nervous tick, like checking my email every five minutes for two hours solid.
I voted for high speed rail to San Francisco at least three times since I turned 18.
Fountain pens make me feel Old Hollywood glamorous.

California—Here I come.
Here I cum.
I wish they all could be; I wish they all could be; I wish they all could be…

California—Bless me with Industrial Sound and Magic and Good Vibrations.
I have been to all your Catholic missions, each a day’s walk apart.

California—without end, Amen.

Kyle 1979

“On a live wire right up off the street, you and I should meet” —Smashing Pumpkins

I actually don’t mind kids these days,
but even still, spending the night reminding
some poor 19-year-old guy who grew up
conservative in East San Diego County,
reminding him repeatedly “watch the teeth”
until finally I just give up and insist that we
switch places—that dance wears me out.

Every once in awhile, though, kind of like a rare
Pokémon only seen after playing four or five hours straight,
Every once in awhile Kyle rolls around, says hello,
Sends a selfie. He’s handsome, 33, has perpetual
Three-day stubble and a smile at least ten years
Younger than he is. The tattoo on his leg is the cover
From Green Day’s Dookie—the Green Day popular when
I was 19—and Kyle had hair on his balls before Nirvana
Was in radio rotation as classic rock.

Kyle talks about his wife. She’s a big woman, has
Medical problems. He asks after my medical
Problems. Suddenly, I realize he speaks an entirely
Different language of bodies than I do. Also, I guess
He can’t hold a job, because each time we meet
He’s about to start a new one; it’s hard because he has
A daughter now. I kind of wish I could buy her something,
A toy from TV, something he’d get her once he finally
Has that new job. Instead, I offer to take him to lunch, I
Insist I really do want to be his friend, too.

But this whole time in the bedroom doorway he’s been
Inching closer, he’s been flipping up his shirt to
Scratch his chest—as I notice, the flicker in my eyes
Promises that yes—yes!—he’s still got this corner of
His life, tucked away like a lucky $20 when you’re broke, or
Like a fat loose joint found on a bad day. So, he stammers,
Admits he promised to fuck me but please—and he’s really
Sorry to have led me on—please could he just jerk me off?
Because after all he still feels weird about—you know—putting
Himself into another guy like that.

He does this every time, and when he asks, sincere
And halting, it doesn’t bother me somehow; rather
A strange, strained dam inside me finally buckles
under pressure—it must be that, I must be
drowning because I’m breathless—but water
Isn’t what’s choking my thoughts, it’s sound, it’s
Jimi Hendrix, Little Wing, and “It’s alright” I think,
“It’s alright. Take anything you want from me.”

Goddamnit, Matthew

…and you can’t shut the fuck up long enough
for me to clear my head enough
to find a way to tell you how beautiful
you are, so, for the record:

Your brown eyes are as clear and sharp as
the smell of blood in air; they glint hot,
like a distant salmon that taunts the eagle
overhead; they flicker like morning sunlight patches,
they burst open in dirt between the swaying trees.

As I press my cheek into your chest it reminds me of
hiding in couch-cushion forts, your skin is the old quilt in
the Colorado basement—soft, seemingly eternal, and
your breath is the winter heating vent in that living room
floor, lulling me to sleep.

I watch your hands, your fingers, they way they curl
around space, around a glass, around my wrist; I have
noticed every square inch of space you’ve filed
into time, tucked away with your fingers.

Matthew; I prefer it when we’re quiet.
Matthew; I like when our foreheads rest against each other.
Matthew; I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile.

Sometimes your fingers fidget and curl around
empty space, like a nervous tick, around your
sadness.

…and just before you leave I know
we’ll argue about something stupid
and I will forget
to kiss you.
Goddamnit, Matthew.