Kathleen McGookey

Imperfect Self-Help

The things I want to understand are never explained, or explained in too much detail: how to find and rent a cotton candy machine which wraps a sweet pink cloud around a stick, or how to name a dog or a child so you both mostly adore the calling and being called. How to drown out the second hand that ticks loudly on your wrist. How to connect the dishwasher to Wifi. How to talk your way out of a parking ticket. How to use silence to your advantage. How to transfer a sleeping baby from your chest to the crib while you hold your breath so the baby doesn’t wake. How to perform a tracheotomy, how to find a dropped ring in a movie theater after the picture starts. How to run a movie backwards. How to remember your father’s younger voice, before he got sick and could only speak in whispers and finally not at all. How to shield your child from slings and arrows, but not too many. How to walk away from the mirror, the screen, the crowd calling after you. How to kiss with such sincere passion and technique that your beloved recalls it fondly, a half century later. How to say no with the authority befitting a monarch, instead of no, thanks or I don’t think so. How to select a spot for an oceanside picnic where no one gets impaled by a flying beach umbrella. How to disassemble a marriage. How to exit an argument with so much grace that all involved parties feel a quick pang of loss. How to tango or foxtrot or waltz. How to recapture that thirst to prove yourself because your life, by all accounts, has meandered like a doe through a field of clover for quite some time now. How to find a brand new penny on the sidewalk for five days running, the first full week of school. How to greet that penny with fresh delight. How to give the last bite, always, to the dog. How to stare at clouds all afternoon without seeing a face or a skull, animal or human. How to vanish completely–even an hour will do–like a wisp of smoke above a campfire, trailing a bright train of sparks.



The Room Where Hearts Are Stored

The underground room is cavernous, dry and well-lit, and smells like fallen leaves with just a little rot. A sleepy hedgehog with gold fur guards the hearts, which give off a pink glow. You can hear the soft sounds of voles and earthworms burrowing in the walls. Crows land, pause a moment, then take flight in a black crowd, thinking their devious thoughts. They are only crows, rude and brimming with energy, and very, very loud, loud enough to drown out the string section of the orchestra rehearsing Canon in D, same as every night. Tickets are always available, despite the crows, but sometimes hawks or owls or pigeons arrive, then strut and show off their fragile iridescent necks. Couples sit on green park benches, talking or kissing, wishing for a burbling fountain to toss coins into, or at least a winding path through a rose garden to stroll. When the crows finally fall silent, music sweeps through the room like a gathering storm, lifting their hair and shirttails, their coats and skirts. The pile of hearts rises and falls as if it’s breathing. The golden hedgehog shivers. At this particular moment, no one misses the sky.



Kathleen McGookey’s most recent book is Instructions for My Imposter (Press 53). Her poems have appeared lately in journals including Copper Nickel, December, Field, Glassworks, Miramar, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Quiddity, and Sweet. She received grants from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. She recently become a downhill ski instructor.