Two poems from Nikki Moustaki’s Dreaming of Chickens
followed by a note on the author
A pound of skin is heavier than a pound of potatoes.
If I had skin like potatoes,
I would shuck and climb into the soup.
A hundred photos of potatoes pasted like heartthrobs
beside my bed, a thousand
eyes judging what they do to a body.
I’m animal, mineral, and vegetable oil,
I’m better than hunger.
I watch it eat.
I sit at the desk in hunger’s headquarters,
an interviewee who doesn’t want the job.
I squeeze my hands in my lap.
Who are you? Desire.
What brings you here? Desire.
What do you want? Potatoes.
Hunger would eat me if it could.
Take your thumb off the scale.
Please peel before weighing.
If my skin is heavier than my sensibility,
help me remove my garments.
I’m better than hunger.
I’m not afraid of spoons.
Potatoes in the abyss, skillets, knives, tongs,
strainers, ladles, kettles, whisks.
There’s something wicked that empowers poets cleaning their houses.
Poetry loves a fresh floor, a spotless toilet, even under the rim.
There are a thousand ways to get grout white again.
A thousand ways to shine tile, to polish a sink new.
Poetry lives between the bristles of a used toothbrush.
Metaphors choke when a poet touches the feather duster:
poetry loves grime. It’s tired of living like an old washcloth,
wiping away staleness like lime from a spigot.
The garbage must be dumped, the dog washed, books alphabetized.
Help me, whatever it is that makes poems.
Whatever divine synapse clicks invisibly like a dust mote
in the darkness, gathering word upon word,
balling phrases under the bed where only the broom’s
eyelashes touch; help me whatever thing drives the scouring pad,
the dish cloth, the mop, each hand latex-gloved, dumb and callous,
the pen dormant in its shell, but clean. Sloth saves poets
the way the sea saves painters: each wave decorating a new landscape
to love, every handful of sand, original, capricious.
I know each coffee stain on the sofa is a stanza waiting to set in,
that glass-ring on the nightstand an unending orb waiting for its tenor.
I’ll just tidy up a little while poetry dies inside my sponge.
I live here among the dog hair, the mildew, the rust.
Nikki Moustaki, author of The Bird Market of Paris: A Memoir, holds an MA in poetry from New York University (1997), an MFA in poetry from Indiana University (2000), and an MFA in fiction from New York University (2009), and has taught creative and expository writing at both of those universities, as well as at The New School in New York City and Miami Dade College in Miami, Florida. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant in poetry, along with many other national writing awards, including three Pushcart Press nominations. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in various literary magazines, anthologies, and college textbooks, including the New York Times, Good Housekeeping, The American Literary Review, Poetry After 9-11: An Anthology of New York Poets, and America Now, chosen by Robert Atwan, editor of the Best American Essays series. Before beginning her career as a freelance writer and editor, Nikki worked as an acquisitions and development editor at Macmillan Publishing and IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., where she specialized in the non-fiction market.