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Rags in a Row (a Lesson in Plumbing)

That last summer illegal together, me and my
stowaway roommates
                       -their coupledom in tow-
muting the stereo with every landlord slam

of the porch door, anticipating that knock,
that 1-2-3, polite
but with its own key anyway. Lisa and Derek

all July fought perfectly on my couch,
totaled my machine and answered to bill collectors,
neither mastering even
the peephole-
its distorted light trap, its dead
                       giveaways-like me.

Subletter, subletter-let me in.

Not by the tail of my lease-bucking 
kitten. Not by the nervous breakdown
of Lisa's unfinished psychology
                       degree. Not
when stoned, never before noon. 1-2-3,

                       that polite round,
                       and Lisa mutes and dashes
                       into our party-mudded kitchen. 

Sometimes so sweet, the faintest smell of shit.

Shit, however, faints not
in August. Through the retired heat

grates we hear the landlord's
goddamns attending to the sewage, basement pipes 
                       exorcised and the apartment
possessed by yesterday's stank, the forgotten

misbegotten, flushed off to nowhere
not fast enough.
We're thinking turds until the landlord knocks

and why do I answer? In galoshes he bows,
one cruddy boot on its toe. 

                       "Is the lady of the house at home?"

"No," I lie, leaning against the doorjamb, the rooms 
behind me rattling with air and mine just 
one more cheap month, "she's not." (No,
she's not hiding out by the coffeepot, she's not
in earshot, she only naps here, she never sleeps.) "For her,"

he declares, having lined up his catch on a plank:
                       8 washed out tampons,

plain as day someone's dirty little secrets.

"Quicker'n'anything-" his lecture begins,
"these'll stop up your sewer, these-"

rags? Ruined
daughters? Unappreciated
private citizens? Each
on a wet shadow without a trace 
of red, drowned in the amnesia of plumbing

where even blood gets lost. I think them
teeming in our pipes, fattened with everything
we disown, and now
more than to begin with they are strictly

these "white mice," he decries them,
his nemeses, banned
                       by the lease. The mop-up,

he insists with smile and pine-sol, is madame's.             

It kept her inside
3 ˝ weeks, Lisa's master-evasion of our landlord,
the infamous handler
of something so intimate, so
                       disposable… It disturbed her,
his hyper-tidy line-up of them:
                       overcast Jane Doe's,
                       nameless but arraigned.

"My mother wants to sue," she told me

and Derek (who
in ruined shoes kissed her cheek
and called her sweetheart). She claimed to have always
                       flushed them,
to have never thought about it. Now she writes me,

says there are still cramped nights when
her dreams snap heatwaves of 
                       that summer's pine, our
                       landlord setting traps
                       all over the house.

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