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Four Poems by Matthew Nolan: A New Orleans Poet

Caterpillar Girls (from Crumpled Paper Dolls, 2004)

Should have known!
Should have known!
Between a phony butterfly
and a never evolving caterpillar—

Her pleasant sincerity is a funny hat
that droops over her face,
a blind dunce,
a cartoon caterpillar;
a squirming, eyeless caterpillar,
on its back in loose dirt,
like Marilyn Monroe posing on satin sheets
“Me! Me! Pick Me! Love Me!”

If only she could see her dirty white lies,
countless as her dirty green caterpillar legs
spread as wide as a caterpillar can,
collecting tree sap between them,
pasting her tiny opening shut

With her wide, munchy caterpillar mouth she says,
“Sorry I am a liar! So sorry!
Pick me! Pick me!”

She can’t cocoon.
She can’t become pretty things like
the phony butterfly skipping in the air,
dodging under a thorn bush to
organize a glassy, green, symphony of caterpillars
to inch towards me, to befriend me,
inching inside my belly button, to love me,
then inching back out with my shredded heart lining,
bloody red tears of skin like a menstrual cycle
hanging from mushy caterpillar lips,
bright red Kool-Aid lips;
Gory green caterpillar girls that never evolve and say,
“Me! Pick Me! I am sorry I lied! Pick me!”


The Juliets (from Exhuming Juliet, 2009)

Mother, we weathered all the Juliets,
their half-turned smiley faces,
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Nolan!
would you like to hold my tampon?

I mangled your son
and tossed him in your garden. Take care of him.
Oh, I will love him ‘til my dying breath.”

You rolled up your sleeves,
fifty years of marriage and motherhood,
in their dresses they asked,
“Which way does the wind blow, Mrs. Nolan?

I feel like I can’t do it. On one level I thought I could.
There are so many levels! I assumed it would upset him.
I feel like a crow! Hey, watch me flap my arms.
Kaw, ka, ka! I’m a crow!”

The rain fell on the Juliets
and they slipped in the mud,
littered pieces of colored taffies melting

We dissected the sticky mess for hours
until the rain washed away all the goo
and mixed the colors into a very pretty potion
that slipped right through our fingers

Circus (from Exhuming Juliet)

In fancy, she plays, and smiles,
she sits small in her big soft chair and twirls her legs
like eggbeaters in knee-high socks,
lifting up her skirt to the circus clowns

As we walk across the parking lot
to the movies she gives a brrrr and shivers her
body with a corner smile and goofy tongue
just for me

With her belly full and sticky thighs
she plays her favorite music and TV,
it is la-di-da and lollipops,
all her toys go weeeee and she looks up to me with
reverent respect and big eyes that say
"daddy, daddy, daddy"

When money gets small and bills take her fun away,
she shakes her head, NO!
When I get sad, depressed, and anxious
she says she can’t come out and play,
so I just sit or sleep sick on the couch,
until I hear a knock at the door
and it is my father with eyes saying Cancer.
Commitment isn’t what she thought.
It has too many letters in it

She whines and threatens to take
her marbles and go home,
I quickly take her out for Mexican food,
she gleams a smile and ticks her head to the music,
shaking her shoulders,
stuffing tortilla chip after tortilla chip in her mouth,
all of a sudden she loves me
and kisses come more than water refills

I know love doesn't sit in a salsa cup,
it sits on our couch dying every night,
dying from being invisible, and as soon as I say
I need her
the salsa will dry all over her grubby little face—
a worn Picasso

From her face is only disgust because for a sliver of time
I don’t drive the ice cream truck, I have nothing to give,
I am weak, arms open,
hi God,
send me another to hold me up. Hi God. Hi.

I thought your something that went wrong so many times
and everyday would hold hands with my something that
went wrong so many times and everyday

Your hands are clapping for the clown


Tiny Grasshopper (from Exhuming Juliet)

You come to bed in red ribbons and white socks,
on your elbow is a tiny grasshopper, light green,
a light itch on your nose,
your soft giggles looping around your airy breath,
a humid face of reproduction,
spongy, glossy, pinkish, round,
exhalation, hungry mounds

Thunder collapses on our rooftop,
pellets of rain striking like hammers,
you rub your flat belly with retreating eyes,
mouth gaping open at a hidden thought,
rotten floor next to bed,
a small swarm of termites swirl your face,
you swat,
but one
enters your mouth,
you gag and spit two or three times,
a drowning termite lies
on its back in your pond of mucus,
you peer at me with flat lips and a stiff neck

Rain is steady,
flat on your back, straight as a knife,
you gaze into the ceiling with
awake eyes of doubt,
a second tiny grasshopper lands on your breast
close to your nipple,
tightness in your still chest
allow the insect
for a moment,
then one angry swap sends it flying

The light itch on your nose
spreads down your back
and onto the tops of your thighs,
you fidget and sigh,
scratching up and down,
you toss, a restless takeover,
you glare at me angrily,
sweaty and porous
you curse me with words of hatred,
we sleep to the dwindling pings of black water

Morning arrives with a chunk of orange sun
splattered in a blue sky,
I turn to you,
you are gone

I run outside and find dead piles
covered in white feathers,
soggy piles of birds,
limp necks stretched out in puddles,
long bold beaks, motionless

As far as I can see,
hundreds of storks
litter the wet ground,
a light tickle brings me to look down at my arm,
I see a tiny grasshopper, light green,
perched on my elbow

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