» Poetry

Three Poems


open the call box—
the black phone handle, barraged
with red fire ants.



Hugh and I started a band called Lonely Couple
and wrote a song by the same name.
We only performed it a handful of times, in Boston,
where were undergrads. I was the lead singer,
I thought though, looking back, we harmonized:

Wilfred Bourgeois, you’re part of us
And this is a song for you

So I guess I was simply a singer without an instrument.

Our friends have left us all alone
At this lonely table for two.
Wilfred, would you marry us?
It’s the hardest thing to do…

I played the accordion and keyboard
but we didn’t own either. Hugh strummed a guitar
with a colorful strap from Guatemala. He’d make
me dinner at his Kenmore Square apartment—
usually spaghetti with ketchup
that he thought was the same thing
as tomato sauce. I didn’t have the heart to tell him
there was such a thing as jarred Ragu, and besides,
it actually tasted good. This was what marriage was
about in the abstract, learning to love another’s innocence
and quirks. He was dreamy as he played his chords,
but we knew he was headed for the Peace Corps
and I for grad school. Wilfred Bourgeois,
my uncle, had visited us and made quite an impression,
so much so that we put him in a song.
He had lost his wife when she was young
and never remarried. Maybe we saw him as a romantic—
and that Hugh and I would love each other more
if we weren’t together forever. But it occurs to me now
how smart we were not to pin each other down,
how we drifted on without too much drama.
We populated our band with classmates, theater
or music majors, who came and went.
Some would later become famous
for sex addiction or Wall Street banking.
One of these guys had a girlfriend in cosmetology school
who teased my hair with a tiny pronged comb
so I could more resemble Kate Pierson from the B52s.
I knew how to shake on stage, but grew stiff
if someone tried to take me home after the show.
I wasn’t married to Hugh and never would be,
but we had loyalty and respect. I’m remembering him
and all this, which I’m surely remembering
at least partially wrong, because I found the lyrics
of our one and only original song
in Hugh’s perfect penmanship. It was folded
in the laminated menu of an Indian restaurant
where we apparently performed once
for a samosa and dal.



& what one reviewer calls
the “sly female squiggle”
in reviewing Julie’s new book
which is full of ampersands
& magic that makes me see
the ampersand’s tilted hip,
one leg folded up & sat upon.
The Latin curvy cursive,
& her French cousin, the treble clef,
were my favorite symbols
to draw as a kid. How easy it was then
to conflate words & music. The &
folded one leg atop the opposite
knee, a calf draped below,
a foot hooked, dangling a shoe.
The appeal of all that coiling
& twirling, notes & script—
one definition, I suppose, of verse.
O, ampersand, you bring
two names closer together
than even the word “and,”
which, according to the Writers Guild,
simply means that those credited
worked on the same screenplay
but quite possibly at different times,
maybe one even rewriting
the other’s work. An ampersand
between writers’ names
means that the two
were in the same room, collaborating
side by side, & though technically
I write this ode alone, it is really
with Julie Marie Wade (poet)
& Sarah Sarai (reviewer)
who make me remember
how much I loved to draw
the ampersand & treble clef
& play the keyboard
which I learned from Mr. Solek
who was a member of a polka band
called The Happy Bachelors,
& he did seem happy
as an adult who wasn’t part
of a Mr. & Mrs. or a Mr. and Mrs.
The Dating Game was big then.
“Bachelorette Number One,
if the whole world were listening,
what would you say?” The cover
of the Bachelors’ album was pink
which didn’t imply anything
to me at the time, but now I wonder
if those bachelors were gay—
Mr. & Mr. or Mr. and Mr.—
or simply young & hetero
& capitalizing on their single status
like boy bands do now.
The Bachelors recorded together
in a studio, twisting horns
& button accordions,
the “sly female squiggle”
a part of all creation. I listened
to the album on my parents’
record player & imagined
all the kinds of adultness
I could possibly one day inhabit,
all the associations of sound & symbol
& word. I thrilled at the polka music
that lived inside the polka dot,
the pulsating bouncing ball
in the “Sing Along with Mitch,”
the seed that would one day blossom
into karaoke. Yesterday
the Supreme Court
struck down DOMA
which meant a lot of celebration
& yet this morning we read
that the ruling won’t help couples
in the 35 states that have laws against
gay marriage & sometimes an “&”
feels more like a “but.” “Bachelorette
Number Two, if you could live anywhere,
where would that be?” I download
the actual ruling & am soon adrift
in legalese. Nothing & everything
has seemed to change this 27th day
of June in the year 2013.
My sister & her husband celebrate
their 32nd anniversary
in Florida, where two women
in love can’t wed. I’m in Portugal
where transportation workers,
fed up with austerity measures, strike,
but those who can afford it
flag down taxis, the drivers of which
are happy for the extra work.
One tells me about his memories
of the Carnation Revolution
&, because he was a kid
when it happened, how
he thought every conflict
from there on in would be solved
with flowers in rifle muzzles.
I feel the same nostalgia for
Roe vs. Wade &, since I was a kid
when it passed, I am dismayed
Wendy Davis had to filibuster
two nights ago in Texas.
“Bachelorette Number Three,
if you could travel back or forward
in time, what year would you visit
and why?” How easy it is for me
even now to conflate words & music,
memory & fact,
& that one simple afternoon
when I wrote my first song
in the book Mr. Solek
gave me, the pages lined
with staffs, & I made my ornate
treble clef, & writing
was writing, & marriage
was in a far off key
I could barely hear, & then I made
an ordinary sandwich
& read the liner notes
on The Happy Bachelors’ LP sleeve
& each ampersand flipped
to become shoulders & arms,
hugs between each musician’s name.

“Ode to the Ampersand” references Sarah Sarai’s review of Julie Marie Wade’s book Postage Due (White Pine Press, 2013) in Lambda Literary.


Denise Duhamel

Denise Duhamel is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently Blowout (University of Pittsburgh, 2013) and Scald (University of Pittsburgh, 2017). She is recipient of numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She edited, with Maureen Seaton and David Trinidad, Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry (Soft Skull, 2007) and served as a guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2013. She teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Florida International University.

Please also see our interview with Denise Duhamel here on Aquifer.