In Your Bowling Dream
after Richard Hugo
You are the daughter who throws strikes, not
the gutter girl who’s asked to sit aside,
not the one sent out to the parking lot
to pick up pennies, the promise
of coffee cake on Sunday, you are not
the one who watches Mr. Leonard
kiss a woman who’s not his wife.
You are the girl with the best fitting shoes,
the grandest ball, all pink and marbled.
You are the girl who gets to ride home
in the front seat, your mother in the back
touching up her heavy lipstick.
And although you don’t see them coming,
high beams follow all of you, bearing down.
In Your Fairly True Dream
after Richard Hugo
You are driving Powerline Road in rural Nevada
the very road where weeks ago eleven dogs
were shot dead (two pit bulls, two dachshunds,
two Pomeranians, a chow, a border collie, an old
bird dog, a retriever and a Jack Russell).
You want to know who did this, how these dogs
came to die along an irrigation ditch, so far from
a lighted porch, a screen door, a tended fire.
Was it a man whose feeble daughter collected
the only living warmth to kiss her, but just too many?
The bills, the smell, the incessant howling? He’d had
enough. He loved his girl but this was love without
his name on it. Or was it a woman, as unlikely as you
hope that could be, a woman whose lover hurt her
often and with a hunger only penned dogs know better.
She’d had enough. Or was it someone who really thought
this open grave a finer place than what might wait
inside the trailer which serves as the county shelter
where sullen teenagers fill out forms: sleeping arrangements,
the use of leashes, the obvious need for freedom to run.
You wonder what the face of someone who does this
must look like—does it look like his? Like yours?
Does it look like the face you might have loved
before you made this drive toward somewhere else,
could it be the face of someone who loved you back?
Address What Matters
You know you want Marilyn’s dress.
Not the one your mother wanted, not
the rhinestone second-skin she sang his song in—
Happy Birthday, Mr. President--not that dress.
You want the simpler but also sleekly tight
little thing she wore here, in this Nevada town,
the dress she wore while drinking shots at this bar
in Dayton. Cocktail cherries, halter back.
You want this dress because she wore it here
but also because everyone who watched her
learned of her secret special talent,
how she could wield a paddleball 100 times
and never miss a strike. Her hips, egg yolks sliding
around a big bowl, kept time, and so did the men
who loved her, or wanted to. No one, not even
Huston nor Miller, knew she could do this,
could create this moment of pure carnal joy.
The movie was The Misfits, and you watch it
every year because it matters, Marilyn matters,
this bar where you and your third husband
spend long summer hours–it all matters.
Everyone has a story here, and some
remember Marilyn, or say they do.
If you had her dress, you could be fearless,
could show everyone who’s ever doubted
that you have skill, you can shudder air.
You would move with a ferocious heat
like the dry desert dust, which is where,
when you’re done here, you’re headed, no matter what.
The new house sitter, a boy from the local college,
is eager for the job, will get away from his little duplex
along the tracks, likes that your fridge will be full,
the beer’s for him. He’s surprised a bit by the number
of lights you leave on all night, every night,
habit, consistency, predictability. You say please
keep them all on, don’t break pattern, it’s safer
to be able to see if you’re startled before dawn—
howl of coyote, owl carrying a kitten,
neighbor bringing a basket of peaches.
What’s already inside the house will also be his.
For 10 days he’ll have your books, your garden bounty,
your very big bed. His lovely new girlfriend
will join him, will roll in your crisp sheets,
will explore your closets, try on your shoes,
your coats, your vintage slips. She’ll find the box
of trophies, your pageant stilettos, your dusty tiaras.
One night under patio light, she’ll wear a slip,
the shoes, a crown. She’ll dance for the boy, slowly
and with purpose, careful not to stumble
on the bricks, those high heels. They’ll be drinking
your whiskey, but she’s not you. In that moment,
she’s not anyone she’s ever known,
she’s the one girl being prized beautiful,
blue ribbon best. One day she’ll struggle to remember
the boy’s lean body, his coarse hair, the bubbling
noise of his sleep. But she’ll remember this dance,
the boy’s grateful seeing, the shine in his eyes.
Leave the lights on. You’ll need to see this.
Gailmarie Pahmeier has been a Nevadan for over 30 years. She teaches creative writing and contemporary literature courses at the University of Nevada, where she has been honored with the Alan Bible Teaching Excellence Award and the University Distinguished Teacher Award. She is also on the faculty of the low residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.
A Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has garnered a number of awards, including a Witter Bynner Poetry Fellowship and two Artists Fellowships from the Nevada Arts Council and has been widely published in literary journals and anthologies. She is the author of The House on Breakaheart Road and three chapbooks, the most recent of which, Shake It and It Snows, won the Coal Hill Chapbook Award from Autumn House Press. In 2007, she received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts from the state of Nevada. She serves as a Poet-in-Residence for Nevada and is a former National Literary Panelist for the YoungArts Foundation. A new collection of her work, The Rural Lives of Nice Girls, came out in spring of 2014. In January of 2015, she was appointed Reno’s first Poet Laureate.