||At the supercenter we were waiting
for the big televisions to go on sale,
which is to say we were waiting
for a larger version of The Price is Right,
in full color and spread across the screen
the way Antarctica stretches across
the bottom of the globe like a pair
of tight white underwear, the kind
my father used to wear in the bathroom
when he shaved his face each morning
and banged the razor rhythmically
on the side of the porcelain bowl.
In the supercenter there are three
of reality. One, that of the law, of those
who move through the aisles in an orderly
fashion, on the right side (which is the right
side). Two, that of the island, which is
the lady in a blue pair of shorts over black
tights, picking up each bottle of shampoo
and reading the label before settling on the first
and moving on to conditioner. Three, that
of the man out front with a long, dirty yellow
beard and a tattoo of Dennis Hopper in that movie
Easy Rider on his forearm, steadily ringing
a bell while some passersby drop nickels
and quarters into a pail for the Humane Society,
and others dig into their pockets, look down and walk by.
And so I lied. Supercenters are no version
of reality, only an image of reality, like the pine
scented mop bucket that reminds me of a time
in my life when I was outdoors, or maybe
even the moment my old man handed me
the hatchet to cut down the Christmas tree.
The lights are so funny in places like these,
that sometimes it seems when I look down
I see pine needles covering the tile bought
in bulk, but this turns out to be only the sad
attempt at a marble effect. And so the other
version of the image is us staring at thirty
televisions, some small, some larger, but all
playing the same thing, a sappy holiday
movie where a boy gets a puppy in a red bow
and the whole family gathers round and drools while
carolers sing Hark, the Herald in the background.
In thirty minutes the young girl with
a squeaky voice will announce over the intercom
that all bets are off, and televisions are
being sold near the back of the store
at fifty-percent off. We envision a year
of seeing the world in a bigger way, of Robert
De Niro’s head large enough on the screen
it will remind me of my grandfather when
he screamed at me for leaving the toilet seat
up. Some fellow dressed as Santa walks by
and two kids in the toy section are picking
him off with plastic versions of oozies.
Bing Crosby is in the background, a voice
soft enough I splurge on the fuzzy slippers,
and all this madness seems to trail to the ceiling,
bounce of the black bubbles that hide
the video cameras, and settle in front
of the speakers that crackle, buzz, and remind
me of a record played over and over
when I was young, while on a screen in the background
a snowman was packing up and leaving town again.
||Vanna White glitters through the static,
walking across rows of blank letters
while Freddy bends the rabbit ears
until we’re able to make out the category.
Before and After,
says Pat Sajak, first cousin
to the marketing gnome, twice-removed
from Donald Trump. Freddy fires up
a joint, then a cig, and we watch the wheel
spinning past the things we know too well,
lose a turn, bankrupt, the mystery card.
As if fortune comes from the turning
of a great wheel in the sky, the American Dream
rolling on weighted ball bearings, a can of WD-40
the size of Wisconsin. It’s Freddy’s favorite category.
Cotton Gin and Juice, he says. Silicone Valley of the Dolls.
We laugh. But at least they’ve got the order right,
first and last, the science of cause and effect.
Louise before she got cancer in her breast,
Jimmy before he first smoked meth.
Vanna before she had kids, Pat before
he went through puberty, me before I knew
how to catch a saying on four consonants
and two vowels, before I’d been with a girl
and knew what softer meant. It’s the after
that happens now—the head going bald,
the teeth rotting. The after that pulls
your cheeks down and puts hair on
your back. The after in the aftermath,
the after in the afternoon that we wait for
on swing sets and in the quiet parts of our house.
It’s the after that kills you on sunny day in February,
and, as Pat says, completes the phrase.
||This morning my mother told me she dreamed
she gave birth to a casino. A big one? I asked.
She said no, but it had revolving doors and lots
of bells—standard size. Did you gamble? I asked.
She said no, but if it weren’t her baby she might have
put in a quarter or two on the slot machine giving away
a shiny red car. Ah, to be pregnant with all that.
The only thing I ever birthed in a dream
was a riding lawnmower with a four-foot cutting deck.
It felt something like the opposite of swallowing
a tortilla chip sideways, odd and rough and a little scary,
too. But to keep the grass down I’d say it’s worth it.
You’re lucky, my mother said, that was an easy delivery.
And I said maybe, but that luck was a lady, I saw her.
When she lifted her sequin dress she had long white legs,
and oh how they stretched across the floor’s green carpet,
oh how they glimmered when the buzzers rang.