Helen Peterson


Two Poems

Two Stories

Two Poems

The Annual Dada Poetry Salon

Three Stories


Two Poems (January 20, 2012. Issue 34.)


The body manipulates itself for the pleasure
of forgetting, plowing through tits and ass
like sheaves of wheat, sweat dripping
from field to field, life covers life, both run
from the true, fear consumed with a moan
a sigh, a whisper of a misplaced name
on a stranger's lips, memory never gained
a race never won.


The jeans, cemented to my calves by sand
and salt water will not let go, stick close
as the afternoon sun glazes them to skin
scissors can not pry them from me, the push
and pull to remove them only causes pain
as they finally rip free, leaving me exposed
to the cool of the bathroom, the sting
of hot water peeling the beach from my body.

So it is, removed from my friend
a brother of spirit, and not of flesh
his voice removed from my ear
his guiding hand removed
from the small of my back
leading me against the waves.

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Two Stories (March 20, 2011. Issue 26. The SLAM & FLASH Issue!)


The DVD player cords have come loose, and the cabinet is locked. There is no key. While the janitor digs for a cordless drill, the I.T. guy asks you to jiggle the DVD player as he inches his fingers, crimped by data, behind the machine. He grabs blindly for the cords, nudging them back where he hopes they belong. Bodies cramped close behind the machine, breath upon breath, hands in the way of hands, you warm to the unfamiliar energy of two people working together with one focus. Surely your marriage has never bred such cooperation. Imagining meatless dinners in front of the Sci Fi channel, reading passages of Tolkien aloud in bed, you almost ask what he’s doing later. But as the cable thrusts into the port, the cathedral set diamond on your finger snags the cord knit wool of his indigo sweater, causing your bodies lurch up and away. Leaving you both with holes threaded with blue and too snagged to fix.


Frenetic energy bounces from body to body, suffocating you like a dance where you don’t know the step, Lon Chaney to the world’s Fred Astaire. You’ve got to get out of this bar, surrounded by faces you might once have known, were you inclined to raise your head and see. Think. Coffee, there’s got to be a donut shop around here, and it’s still early. The hordes are still hours away from wandering in looking for a quick sober before heading home. You dodge around the laughing crowds who may as well be made of stone for all you care and step into the space of the night. Inhale, follow the scent of baked goods where you can sit in a corner, order a cup, and close your mind off to the anxiety of stranger sweat, recycled carbon.

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The Annual Dada Poetry Salon (April 20, 2010. Issue 16.)

The Cornelia Street Cafe sits tucked away on tiny Cornelia Street, between West 4th and Bleecker. Walking inside we see waiters in white and black, serving warm asparagus salads and hamburgers on English muffins, laced with horseradish. We see a mirrored bar to the right, tiny tables in the middle, and against the far left wall stairs leading down, down, down. Take these stairs to a whole other café all together. It’ll cost you seven dollars, but that seven gets you a seat and your first drink, and you won’t find a better bargain in Manhattan. As you inch your way to a seat, a man in a moon mask wearing a reaper’s cloak hands you a copy of Maintenat 4 and a cd of Jan Michael Alejandro’s music, which you can hear playing in the background. It is a jazzy fusion, 50s hepcat written all over it and the long narrow club you now find yourself in, deep turquoise blue walls, burgundy curtains draping the stage. Someone with design skills has hung mirrors on both sides, to give the imagination more space, but when you are sitting knee to knee with the person next to you, imagination is not enough. It is cramped, but it is love, everyone in their poet uniforms, black on black on black, excepting our hostess, Kat Georges, in fuchsia boa, and a young man in white face and off white dress.

Kat runs a regular poetry series here, The Son of Pony, but tonight’s event is special. It’s the annual Dada Poetry Salon and launch of Maintenant 4, an imprint of Three Rooms Press. The journal takes its name and inspiration from Arthur Cravan’s 1915 Maintenant magazine, the granddaddy of the Dada movement. Features are mingled in between open mic sets, that young man in the white dress is part of the Typewriter Girls, a troupe of actors and poets who have come all the way down from Pittsburgh for this event. Boys and girls in drag, they pay tribute to Emmy Hemmings’s “Perhaps the Last Flight”. The evening came full circle with a live performance by Jan Michael Alejandro, his music wafting up the stairs, following poets and spectators as they made their way to another open mic at a local pizza joint, Grand Central, or wherever the night took them muttering dadada under their wine infused breath.

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Two Poems (April 20, 2010. Issue 16.)

What it Means to be a Whore’s Daughter

Eleven year old girl
Sitting around Jim Boy’s
Birthday party, watching his baby
Sister Love Bug being passed around
from lap to lap while
One of her own baby sisters is up in heaven
With Maw-Maw and the other
Got took by the Department of Children and Familes
Then given to Grandmother, both as good as gone

Girl’s fingers get itchy for that baby—
Any baby— to love, But will settle for
the pink fluffy poodle lying discarded
in the port-a-crib
Crusted with oatmeal
Smelling of banana

Jives herself up for the take, thinking:
You know you’ve heard their daddy
Rolling around your Mam’s bedroom
And you know you won’t be invited
Back no-how anyways, go ahead girl

Take it.

Popcorn Ball Blues

Don't get your popcorn balls in a knot, Daddy
I still carry a blowtorch for you-

You've been so long on the road, peddling your wares
Hawking your kettle corn at the country fairs
Is it any wonder that I would get hungry
Sample some new candy apple or Jim Dandy?

But nothing fills me up like the stuff you like to pop
There ain't a bag big enough of Twix or honey drops
They're just an appetizer for the feast that we once had
Just leaves me even hungrier, lonely, fat and sad.

Flame so hot, flashing so blue
It'll caramelize those nuts tight to the kernel
Make Orville Redenbacher stand straight outta his grave
Faster than you can say:


So don't get those papa-corn balls in a twist, Baby
I'll still blow this torch for you.

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Three Stories (May 20, 2009. Issue 5.)

The Cheating Kind

“Do Twizzlers count as licorice?” you ask, hefting the crate in the wholesale cavern while I scan the shelves for soy milk. “I wouldn’t know”, said, not thinking, until I am down the next aisle, surrounded by adult diapers by the ton, that you hate sweets, and I am on a diet.


The smile you give me would get your passport revoked in most airports.


Goin' Commando

What, you ain’t got clean drawers? Well just go commando then, child. Oh, don’t give Maw Maw that look, boy, even your own Mama had to go without a few times when she was a little speck. Price you pay for having a liberated woman birth your hide. She drags in here ten every evening, Suge, when she got time to wash clothes? I’d do it myself, but your Maw Maw ain’t as young as she looks. Tell you what, shimmy into some pants and heft that basket down to the laundry for me, and I’ll tell you a story ‘bout your Mama.

Alright, hand me those towels over there, we’ll get these whites going. Like I said, when she was growing up, she’d have to go without drawers from time to time too. Wasn’t so fashionable back then to raise a child on your own, so I didn’t have a Maw Maw to hep out. We’d have to rush around bright and early, I’d throw whateva looked clean around your Mama, we’d shove some toast down our throats as we ran out the door to so’s we could get to the church day care in time for me to make my shift at the Piggly Wiggly.

Times got pretty hard once, and that sneaky landlord of ours turned the lights off in the middle of the night, thinking we wouldn’t notice. Lord, we were so late that day! Ended up with plain bread for breakfast, and I told your Mama to just put any thing on while I groped through the closet for my apron. She came out in the pink frilly Easter dress I’d made her, (she was Miss Fancypants, ever then,) but I didn’t have time to point out how dirty she’d get.

Well, we made it, and only five minutes late too. My boss still took his time cussin me out though, in fact he had just quit his bitchin when I get this frantic call from the church. “Come back quick, no time to explain.”  Well, I hightailed it back, sick with worry she’d broken a bone or ate some peanuts by mistake. I like to die when I pulled into the parking lot and saw what all the commotion was about. There she was on the monkey bars, upside down, and as bare as Adam. I yanked her right down, got her some jeans and a t shirt at home, and she spent that day bagging my line. Spent many days matter of fact, since it took me about a week to find a new center that would take her.

Well Baby, looks like the dryer finished up, just in time too. Fill that basket back up now and lets get these clothes back upstairs to fold. Won’t Mama be so proud of her little man? But first Child, do your Maw Maw a favor, turn round shimmy into these here fresh drawers.


Missy Lee's Enlightenment

She toys with the thought that it ain’t her fault, that the prissy way he touches her, as if touching something dead. It makes her wonder what kind a poison his mama was pumping into him some 30 years ago, to make his head twist in such a way from the tits she offers him now-- the nicest set in town, I thank you— when she could walk down to Lloyd’s at any time and have her pick of the cats and wolves sniffing and prowling round the pool tables and bar stools.

Time was she had a notion he might be a little “fancy”. But she realized that couldn’t be the problem either, not in this town. He would have gotten beaten to death long ago, were that the case, just like that Sullivan boy a couple of years back. Missy shuddered to remember the body, smeared in such a red that she imagined must be lipstick when she saw the pictures in the paper, no one could contain that much blood. She was wrong of course… come to think of it, didn’t Billy Sullivan slip into the back of the theater with her once or twice a few years back. Biting her lip attempting to recollect, she gave up quick, the body count too high to remember so far.

Slipping out of the cold bed creaking, she shrugged out of her jammies in front of the full length mirror attached to the back of the door. Twisting this way and that, she catalogued all that was still in the right place, trying to pick out the flaw which kept the bed empty. Not one curve was out of place that she could see, no matter how she squinted, arching her back in as many awkward shapes as she could to inspect every inch. Frustrated and breathing heavy, she fell back into the bed, still naked, taking comfort only in the fact that no, none of this was her fault. Whatever his problem was had nothing to do with her

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