Jim Daniels’ next two books of poems, Rowing Inland, and Street Calligraphy will be published in 2017. Other recent collections include Apology to the Moon (BatCat Press), Birth Marks (BOA Editions), and Eight Mile High (Michigan State University Press). He is also the writer/producer of a number of short films, including The End of Blessings (2015). Born in Detroit, Daniels is the Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
Strawberries and Mirrors
We live on the same planet
as strawberries and mirrors, smoke
and breath, minor sin and major celebration.
Is an apple really that tempting,
even when glossed by a serpent’s skin?
In all the stories, it’s an apple—
as if betrayal needs such sturdy fruit.
What about the slipperiness of sin?
A strawberry from my garden—
smaller than in the supermarket,
but a red that takes in sun, spins it
into rich glow and melts in tender,
sweet collapse inside your mouth—
is more like it.
A mirror could bring down anyone.
My children adore strawberries bordering
on sin, to be confessed, if that was a box
we checked on the sin-meister’s list.
The hallway mirror, evidenced
by smudges as they check out
how they will be checked out
when they smile like this
when they dance like this
when they break down the gates
of hell like this.
There’s a rule against me watching,
though I pass that tollbooth a dozen times
a day, and they spend enough time there
to be accruing pension benefits.
All the snake dude needed to do
was stick a mirror tree in Eden
to stop traffic to eternal happiness.
If Adam and Eve were teenagers
they’d be out of there, sucking icicles
and bitching about the furnace
before He could even lock
the gate behind them.
The steam off a living thing
is my idea of heaven, though how much
does a doubter’s vote count?
Clouds of it rising today off my children
waiting for the bus, refusing all
my designations for them as they stand
between the strawberry and the mirror,
the serpent coiling and uncoiling
in the steam, like God’s smile
as he’s jingling his keys, saying,
have a nice day.
LETTER TO THE POSTAGE STAMP
I licked your glue like a bad kiss,
displaying my tongue for the sad doctor
of scribbled words.
Once in Italy they refused my postcard—
too much writing! One stamp
after another after another,
the mysterious bad luck of chain mail
and postage due. But I did love you—
displaying the flag or the famous. Simple,
certain. For years, just Washington, stoic
as a thumb. At college, I unfurled a roll
the length of my bed and posted a daily letter
to my girlfriend with the dutiful regularity
of tooth-brushing. I sometimes referenced tooth-
brushing in those letters, imagining doubt
overwhelmed by volume. The fact of the envelope’s
deliberate, folded, pages. The smoking mailman lingered
in the shade. The waiting, the forgetting, the surprise
of the arrival of what I had once longed for—
box-top prizes, lingerie catalogs, scissors and glue
and—and you, exposed to someone’s
extended tongue, faith in the sacrament of mail.
I will peel a self-adhesive and press it firmly
I will drop this in a mailbox.
Addressed to you, where will it go?
Remember my tongue among so many.