Fall 2011, Volume 11

Poetry by Denise Duhamel

Dirty Laundry

Before you left, you installed the shelf
I’d been begging you to put up,
secured the broken sliding glass doors
with crisscrosses of duct tape, no small feat—
three broken panels that stretched the whole bedroom. 
You closed the aluminum shutters to keep out the wind
in case a hurricane came.  My friend said
one of the good things about acute pain
is that at least you know you’re alive.
The pain I had before you left made me dull
and dead inside. Probably the same for you—
that you’d found some secret thrill
knowing you disappear and I’d call
the police, worrying you’d driven
the car into a canal or oncoming traffic
like you told me you would.
I did call the police, the morgue, the area hospitals,
the security guards at your job.  No,
you weren’t there.  Did you have an argument?
the policewoman asked, trying to convince me
you were at a bar with your friends.
But that’s not my husband, I explained.
He doesn’t cool off, he doesn’t
have any friends.  When I finally convinced
the police to come it was because they were afraid
you would hurt someone else.
One asked: Could he have left you? 
I said, Not a chance.  You barely ever left
the house.  Is he on any meds?  
I walked to the cabinet to show her
your prescriptions and that’s when I saw
the cleaned-out shelf, that’s when I looked
to your desk to see a blank square
that usually held your computer. 
I ran to the closet and stared at the empty spot
where this morning there’d been a small carryon. 
A cop stood in our walk-in and asked me
if there were any clothes missing. 
I looked at your shirts and couldn’t figure out
what you’d taken.  They wanted some colors
of your button-downs for identification
purposes.  Wow, he was spoiled, huh?
the cop said. He has more clothes than you do. 
Your Polos huddled on their hangers,
squeezing together as though they were
conspiring against me.  He’ll be back, the cops said. 
He’ll call within 24 hours.  Yes, we’d had an argument,
but it was the kind of argument that signaled
this was the end. I tried to explain
how we were different, but they weren’t buying it.
Try to get some sleep, they said, knowing I wouldn’t.  
They asked if I wanted to go
to the hospital for observation. 
I didn’t want anyone else to see 
my pink-rimmed eyes and, besides,
I had to wait for your call, right? 
I paced the house.  I looked for clues. 
It’s weird that he was trying to tie up loose ends,
the police said when I told them about the shelves,
the windows, your handyman behavior. 
The policewoman thought it could signal
suicide, but her partner doubted it.
I’d thought you were just trying to get back
on my good side after our fight.  A few days later,
I walked to the laundry room to do a load,
to wash your smell out of the sheets. 
And there was our laundry, already there, one batch
still in the wash, another lump
of our dirty clothes on the small table
people used for folding.  You couldn’t even
tie up loose ends properly. You couldn’t even
pick up the phone to explain, to let me know
you were OK.  I separated our wet clothes—mine
into the dryer, yours into the trash.
I picked through the dirty pile
and also tossed out your sweaty duds.
I put my dry clothes in the wash
and poured a cup of Gain.
I’d never Shout out
another one of your stains.

 Happy Divorce

I’ve just eaten spoonfuls of chocolate chip cookie cobbler
with my friends who order it for me—
a whip-creamed surprise with a candle at the end of a meal.
Instead of singing “Happy birthday to you…”
they sing “Happy divorce to you…” The waiters are eighteen,
a little nervous.  One whispers into my ear,
“This is the first time I ever heard such a thing!”
I want to say:  he hurt me a lot.  I want to say:  he sent
emails so cruel even the lawyer—
who’d seen a lot of cruelty—said, ”I’m so sorry.
This can’t be easy …” The four women
at the next table—middle-aged, too, my mirrors—
raise their wine glasses and make a toast.
“I got rid of three sons-of-bitches,” one says.  Another:
“Here’s to your new life!”  A few twenty-something guys
in baseball hats turn to us.  They are horrified—
seeing their futures, their young wives grown old
and yucking it up, cackling (as my husband—
rather my ex—used to say) on a night on the town
without them.  I wear a shirt with rhinestone buttons
and the women who toast me sparkle, too,
bedazzled with real jewels. A young couple
can’t stop looking—it might be
their first date.
    My ex and I saw such a couple, about a month
before he left.  He and I weren’t talking, just shoveling down
our chicken fajitas, that we’d split, I suppose,
looking back, as a way to connect.  I eavesdropped
on the couple at a table next to ours.  They were looking forward
to seeing Mama Mia.  I said to them “Don’t do it!  Don’t waste your time!”
meaning the movie, but I guess at that point I meant,
“Don’t waste your time on this date. And whatever you do,
don’t get married.”  My then-husband and I had just seen
Mama Mia, another attempt to have fun, I suppose, to connect. 
Why did that have to be the last movie we saw
together?  “It’s awful,” I told that couple. 
“Not campy-bad, but cringe-inducing-bad.”  I told the truth. 
My husband said, “Don’t listen to her, it wasn’t so terrible.” 
It was and he knew it, hated it even more than I did.
He was the one who wanted to walk out. 
   I smile
my most sincere not-to-worry smile at this new young couple,
in this new restaurant.  They don’t have to end up like me,
I’m trying to say.  They could instead become my two friends
who treat me to dinner, who treat me to cobbler,
who are long married.  These women are beautiful,
with their wedding rings and superb skin.
I worry about my sparkly buttons—am I trying too hard?
My friends promise to let me know if I ever start
to look garish—or lackluster, like I truly don’t care at all
anymore, which, to be honest, is sometimes how I feel.
But not when I dig my spoon into my treat
of cookies crumbled. Sometimes that’s just the way it went.


Joan Rivers advises women of a certain age
to sit in the shade, meaning: let the younger women
vie for attention.  We’ve done our time in stilettos and tight skirts
and it’s a relief, to be honest, not to feel pressure to don
the half-poncho that is certain to be in just one season.
It’s a relief not to be the target of whistles and honks—do men
even whistle at women any more?  We don’t know and we don’t care
as we rest here in the shade, not wrinkling our skin more
than it has already been wrinkled, donning our floppy hats
and muumuus.  We’re relaxing with Jane Austen,
looking upon verdure, the most perfect refreshment.
Oh verdure, and quaint words like it—delicacy, pleasing,
agreeable, recollections.  Jane’s detachment is the most profound,
but Joan says it’s easy for her since she died at forty-one
and probably never had a hot flash.   I wish Joan
would let herself grow old naturally, but to be honest, halfway in,
I’m not even sure I want to write a poem
about the societal pressures put upon aging women.  
Who really cares about Botox or vaginal rejuvenation
when waves are taking out whole towns,
bee populations are dwindling, and everyone knows
water sources are being depleted at an alarming rate?
Joan, Jane, and I agree something has to be done soon
as we pack up our board games and lemonade,
cursing Wall Street and Exxon and Dow Chemical.
Joan wishes Jane could have written directly about class disparities
more often, like she did in her most unpopular novel Mansfield Park
Jane wishes I wrote more about the fragility of nature
rather than the banalities of pop culture.  We both wish Joan
would aim her comic wit at corporations instead of celebrities. 
But we’re women of a certain age and set in our ways,
so we divvy up the labor to play to our strengths.
We hash it out with charts and to-do lists.  We all have excuses
as to why we’d be lousy organizing the mailing list
or chairing our meetings.  Joan suggests we recruit
some young women to help—they can’t all be Bridezillas
taking pole dancing lessons.  I say we can enlist some men. 
Jane thinks they are useless, but I explain a lot has changed
since Pride and Prejudice.  And besides, men love
computers and technology.  Jane is surprised and a little sad
that no one uses the word “verdure,” anymore
so instead we agree to call our movement
Save the Shade, so we’ll have somewhere to go
if we ever finally earn our rest.




BIO: Denise Duhamel is the author of numerous books and chapbooks of poetry, including: 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.