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David Cheezem

Letters from Lily

Lily appears at my bed
arms burdened. Here

are all my letters. Paper.
Parchment. Stone. Magnetic

disks. Etched crystals. Even
message pills: Letters

to everyone she’s known.
Some living, some dead,

some not yet born, but she watched
die. She drops the letters, all.

They cover the covers of the bed,
threaten the floor: epistles of love

and grief. I’m finished she says.
A smile. Something has been released.



Lilly’s letter to the cashier at the Fiesta Liquor Store in Houston, Texas

You won’t read
what they wrote about you,
that someone found
you chopped to the torso, naked,

sloshing up the banks
of the ravine,
                       and you

won’t read my letter,               but
I’ll write it anyway, because I want
it written:        Four days before they found
your body,      you had arms, legs,

a head. When, at the Fiesta Liquor Store,
I changed my mind, put
beer back, got whisky,

                                 you smiled,

looked down, backhanded your hair

from your eyes, and rang
the purchase.
                      That’s all

I have
           of you and all
                               I can do
is write it





I met Lily in the 19th Century.
She had one fancy dress that crinkled when she walked.

I took her everywhere.

We walked in the singing sands, crossed the Talimakin desert until

we ran out of water, so we went to Germany

to watch the opening of Danton’s Death.

She already knew about Robespierre, so I told her about Hitler.

She was appalled; I was appalled,
and that made us both feel better.




It’s hard to know what happens when,
what is the past to a particular present.

But it was last week, Lily brushed
her rough hand over my belly, said

“Do you know how old I am?
I wiggled close. It had been so long.

“Age doesn’t add up
that way for time travelers,” I said.

“Only cumulative years count.”
“Since I met you, I’ve leapt

thousands of years,” she said.
She has those things on her eyes,

“crows feet.” I roll my finger
over them. “You still taking care

of your daddy?” The light through
the window blinds glowed. Her crows

feet got wet. Her daddy’s dead.
I mean, back then, he’s dead.




Lily’s daddy is a mule skinner.
His job is to romanticize
the buffalo, and I hate him
and I told him so, even though

he has a six-gun, and all
I had was a cell phone
that doesn’t work back then.

Lily and I tried to change him.

We sang our song together.

I sang
              “Hey mule skinner,”
                                             and Lily sang
                        “Hey mule skinner.”
               “Stop Killing the buffalo.”
                        “Stop killing the buffalo,”
(her voice more sweet and clear than her time or my time deserved.)

That really pissed him off.
Lily had to stand between his gun and me,
screaming like the devil,

but she wouldn’t leave him right then,
or leave his time, and when she told us that,
her daddy laughed and spat and said,

“You go on home now, here?”

I turned away, but he shouted, “Stop!” I stopped.

“I got one more thing I gotta say.” And Lily’s daddy said to my ear:

“Who the hell are you?
I’d like to know.
Who the hell are you
to write a poem about me?

He poked my chest. I fingered my cell phone.
We both looked at Lily skinning potatoes in the distance.


I walked home alone.



Lily’s daddy’s momma left Lily’s
daddy’s papa when he was 12.

Lily’s daddy’s papa had attention
deficit disorder of the penis.

Same thing happened to Lily’s daddy.
Never touched Lily, though.

That’s why she took care of him so long.
Once, history seemed a fiction to her,

a book she could leave any time,
until she watched that man die

writhing on the moist, stained sheets.
History became dangerous then,

and now, weary, mortal, she returns to me
cuddles here for one night – only,

leaves me again, with these letters.



Lily’s letter to her daddy

Sometimes I’d awaken late, or almost awaken and the memory
of your world would speak to me, almost touch – and sometimes

it would be you: puffy cheeks, sandpaper skin, browning teeth, drunk, speaking indecipherably, tobacco in that
          ugly pouch.

                                         Feel this!

my father holding leather to my cheek,

       Smooth, huh? Holds it,
       the smooth leather, to my face,


and the word would not leave my skin,

even as the father pinched tobacco, the words –

                               Dead Indian

         (the pinch is in his mouth now) …

Dead Indian’s name: White Antelope, killed at
Sand Creek, his scrotum a tobacco pouch.

       Feel that.

I feel it, Papa. I feel it like a cold rain shiver in a bivouac, the sun dimming at dusk. I feel it like the coughblood on your pillow and the bedpan stink in the cabin. I feel it like the almost-slap you stopped when I asked about Momma a year after she disappeared.

My father. My history. I still feel it.




I remember a concert after the first time Lily left.
I remember the man on lead guitar and vocals.
I remember the incoherent words. This song was joy to him,

ecstatic joy-grief. For me, in the back of the club,
it was only dull and loud, more dull than my own dull thoughts.

He was slapping his guitar. I could almost feel
my own bones crack.       Still, there was a peace there.

This was not the sound of a Mexican soldier
thrusting a cattle prod into a Zapatista rebel’s

ass or the East Timorese woman’s finger-
nails being pried away as in a bad film   These

were boys and girls dancing, amorphous
waves of living bodies leaping,         hair

and innocent spit


in still time. This         was a gentle
violence. The man on stage unstrapped his guitar,

but does not stop singing. It is a guitar
with a broken string, and he holds it
behind. I feel the guitar
weigh down his arm as he waits until

she appears, hard to see, in
black shirt, black pants, black hair. I can
feel her release him of the guitar with the broken string,
give him the replacement.

I try and hold that moment, how
she takes the worn-down ill guitar in the ill-
defined light, and replaces it for the sake of that bad song.

The woman in black seems to see me. The man pounds
more fierce, screams the song, the song I won’t sing,
banging the guitar with such abandon –

She disappears…
…and reappears beside me, panting cautious
footsteps through early mountain snow. (The sounds
of boots finding steps: wondrous!)

The devil’s club leaves make no demands,
shriveled up and about to freeze,
unlike her long warm fingers – her hands

holding berries – high bush cranberries
for me to taste. “My name is Lily,” she says,
“Remember me? The woman of your desires?”

I taste the tart berries and my eyes
fill with friendly smoke – red grenades
exploding inside my tongue, friendly fire.

She laughs: ivory fretwork inlaid,
she laughs: subliminal theology.
If damage has been done, it has been repaired.

Now the darkness gives pleasure to the sky.
Now the sun can hardly lift its eyes.




We do sex all night.

In the morning: rest, awake,
wrapped in loose, woven
blankets on the couch, wet our lips with tea,
with talk. She says, “History is wound by ob-
jective forces,” which I deny,

gently, working wheels into her shoulders,
until sleep seduces us with the bright
red and green chatter of Saturday cartoons….

A girl opens the screen door, knocks.
We wake up and let her in.
She is five, wears dusty rags,
dusty hair. “I am the postindustrial
poor,” she says. “May I please have some soup?”
So we feed her, buy her new clothes,

get her a new job, sewing in a sweat shop. She
shakes her clean hair, her clean face, and laughs
like a five-year-old child. She stutters.
She cries. “Thank you. From the bottom –
the bottom of my little sentimental heart.”




Lily says she knows no unequivocally good act.

She disappears. Again.




Lily’s letter to me

We have all been told that soil is born
in the slow motion heat of worms
digesting hair, meat, bone, leaves,

but if it could happen before your eyes –
if you could see soil born in an instant,
coming to fruit, wouldn’t you want

to hold it, to roll this breathing soil
through your fingers, and watch
the new clumps fall to the old earth?

Marty’s ex-girlfriend Joan had the fastest
compost pile in the whole world.
If she dropped a slimy leaf of Swiss chard
onto the pile, she could watch it dissolve,
but she should have told him not to reach
his hand too soon into the fast, new earth.

She should have told him how the heated borders
between soil-notsoil crumble during
the time of transformation, how the new
soil asks to join whatever it touches.

He touched it too soon, feeling first
the soil soften in his fingers, then
the fingers softening in the soil.

Now, baby’s breath is all that holds
the clumps of his palms together; bleeding
hearts contain his fingers, fragile
lobelias contain his wrists.        It’s very

sad to him. He’s very sensitive
about all this.           I am too,

but he feels so soft upon me –
his scented hands on my skin. Sometimes
I fail: sometimes I lose my grief for him
and whisper guilty gratitude to Joan
or to his moist, fragile hands, or to
the soft, sad blues his fingers sing.

Love and kisses,




One day,
Lily says
after we’re
the roaches
come to language,
and they
to remember





[Lily’s letter to the 24th century transport attendant she lives with, alone, for seven years, on a distant Saturn moon (in 24th Century Saturn-English Pidgin)]

Fog’n bydis brite dull glum foggy lite
starin bydis windo, bydis brand bydissnow
bydis brandes wite, quanquiet, an dinkme

Me quanfar bydis you so gone –
so quanfar gon dat time saymedin wonda
bydis datum reedme The Mountain Cabin
bydis data Collected Shorter Poems
bydis datapenis Hayden Carruth
me nucan sayou good why dat datum crymedin.

Alone bydis moon so quanfar, so quansolo,
you a me sitdin staredat sky
bydis days, bydis nites
me reedinyou datdata:

“He okaydin, nebad, but nodid
an nodid nucud stop nodis

trapdid, nucan go low, wildin losit
his trail bydis storm….”

der wedin, dere bydis stal building
a you sayme you life, you story
bydis land adis hom so quanfar
a you sendem hous 500 virtuals
each 4chron, a you childs

nu cryfood numor
                     but cattl
deydead, urdgro
500 virtuals nu good now
a stukdere, 7chrons
til next transport ship.
7chrons you walked
shipend bydis shipend
long timedin, like Hayden Carruth,
but quantrapdin, in that stashun

a din, wordcome, daydead,

nuwater, a din nucud say’yu nodding.
Nucud say’yu
nodding. Nucud stopyu

brakdin bydas nuair space,
bydis nubred, yuded.

Soryme. Sor’yu.
Nucud stopu
bydis nuair, bydis quanspace,

bydis quansad moon cabin.

-- Lily




[Lily’s Message Pill to me]

Lily and I walk near mountains.
Moonlight on snow: faint haze, softening
branches on trees. The remains of an old, wooden, lean-to fence
emerge as we walk, then disintegrate into the snow,
then reappears, a low, harsh triangle rising to its support.

Lily: I expected you to hold me until I healed, and you held me until I healed.

Then I expected you to let go.

So she punishes me with this:

Our feet land on crisp snow, pause, fall.

The wooden fence becomes barbed wire. Metal posts
span 10 feet. Rust. Sometimes the wire
is un-entwined, torn, rusting from the pole. An old
woman. Sitting on a log, feet in snow. Staring

at a world blasted off its axis. Lily waves.
The woman nods. Another one: a teenage girl
leaning on a tree. The fence changes,

becomes a chain link. High razor wire on top.

Or no razor wire. It doesn’t matter.
Lily: a grim smile: Thought we’d swing by a Serbian rape camp.

More prisoners. Sitting. Lining themselves up at the fence. And this:
A man in a double-breasted suit tromping in the snow. Large,
exaggerated steps. Shaking their hands. Smiling.
Handing out Big Ass hams.

David Letterman: Hi! Good to see you! No one wants to hear about you!

Hey! How are you? Back home, they’re tired of hearing about you!
A girl looks up, speaks, Are you making fun of us? David

Letterman turns to the camera, smiles, gap in his teeth: What the hell was that about?

The wind tugs at Lily’s hair. We walk on. The snow thickens, the fence shrinks, is now just a strand of barbed

is now decaying fencewood. The footsteps, their calming slow rhythm, stop. Lily looks out, mountains in the

To know the world too much
is to die.
To know the world too little
is to kill.

She disappears.