from A Pillow Book: "Not to Be Despised..."

Not to Be Despised
A Hyundai when hitchhiking.
Peanuts when traveling coach.
Support hose at forty.
Dishonorable discharge.
Water from a gas-station sink.

For a third day in a row the doorbell rings just as I am finally settling down to do some work. I resolve to settle the matter once and for all. The man on my stoop holds a shovel in one hand and  in the other, his hat. An old pillowcse stuffed with something bulky—empty beer cans?—rests on the welcome mat at his feet. For twenty bucks, he offers to clear the front walk. Behind him, snowy steps descend to an icy path winding between a dead hydrangea and the Subaru parked, as usual, a little too close to  the fence. My husband, I recall, will not be home until late. The forecast tonight is more snow. I show the man the contents of my wallet—two crumpled fives and one single—which he accepts, bowing slightly. I nod and withdraw behind the locked door. Eleven dollars, I reflect as I return to the keyboard with my tepid kombucha, isn’t bad for a half-hour’s effort. If he works fast, he could be done in twenty minutes. When I take a cupcake break in the kitchen moments later, however, I spy him out the sliding glass door, dragging his shovel behind him down the street, my icy walkway, to all appearances, untouched. Fair enough, I say, jangling my pajama pocket full of loose change.

Pillow is a funny word, Her Majesty announces in the rosy glow of  her nightlight. So is Word. She sits up wide-eyed and smiles. Word is a funny word, she repeats. So is Funny! So is Goodnight,  I intone from the doorway, and dissolve in the dark.

Guilty Pleasures
Beating a child at checkers.
Peeing in swimming pools.
Watching Dateline.
Drinking milk from the carton.
Glimpsing one’s neighbor at home in her curlers.
Glimpsing one’s neighbor at home in her curlers, watching
     Dateline, drinking milk from the carton.
A roaring fire in July.

Questionable Gestures
To haggle with hookers.
To roast a bride.
Tax-deductible gifts.
To supplement a hunger strike with juice.
A post-doc at Yale School of Medicine’s Center for Obesity
     Research sponsored by Pizza Hut.
Golden parachutes.
Faux fur.
Blush on a corpse.


Last night I had a dream so vivid I didn’t bother to record it on my pillow. I was sipping a large stein of sangria at some sort of nightmarish gala, leaning on the arm of a once-powerful older man I’d met in college, upon whom I was now, in the dream, in the awkward position of passing literary judgment. He was wearing a white guayabera shirt with pink stitching, and what hair of his remained was slicked across a forehead speckled with age. I woke angry and aroused and could not get back to sleep. Was this a Prophetic Dream? A Psychological Healing Dream? A Belief Dream? The only option I could rule out for certain was a Dream of Daily Life.

A vegan in Vegas.
A poor plastic surgeon.
Tempests with names like “Trudy” and “Ted.”
Perfume at a funeral.
Military dolphins.
Black balloons.
Light rock.


I read a message last night from a woman I have yet to meet beyond the dim glow of a list-serv. She lives in Tampa, if memory serves, and won a juried prize last year for a mixed-media meditation on habitat loss across America, including charts, chants, photographs, oral histories, crowdfunded films, and salvaged trash. She tracks the migratory patterns of purple martins above Wal-Mart parking lots and graphs the spawning grounds of Northern leopard frogs from the Gulf Stream waters to the redwood forests. She posts quarterly reports on her blog. She now finds herself, she confessed last night, in the unfamiliar position of lacking words. While dropping off her child at preschool yesterday, she explained,  she learned from a social worker stationed in the foyer about the sudden death, on Wednesday night, of a boy in the class. An accident at home, is all she knows. The details remain undisclosed. The toddlers have been told that ther friend now lives inside their hearts. What does that mean, her daughter wants to know. What does it mean that he is in our hearts? She doesn’t want Sam inside her, her daughter insists. Sam picks his nose. She doesn’t want Sam’s boogies polluting her heart. At a loss for words myself, I don’t reply. I sit at Her Majesty’s bedside that night and watch snowy pillows pile upon the peeling deckhairs outside.


Better By Moonlight
Equestrian statues.
The Grand Canyon.
Sex after forty.
Lawn furniture.
Travel plans.
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
Suzanne Buffam, "Not to Be Despised..." from A Pillow Book.  Copyright © 2016 by Suzanne Buffam.  Reprinted by permission of Canarium Books.
Source: A Pillow Book (Canarium Books, 2016)
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