Sunday Rumpus Poetry: Three Poems by Amy Strauss Friedman





The Weight of Dust

The mattress
accrues tumors,
coils around
dust mite
and shed skin.
The material
weight of ghosts
occupies a lost city
buried beneath me
where shells
of those I loved
sway sweetly
among glittering
city lights
in delayed dreams
of outsized scale.

Before bed
I slather myself
in essential oils:
gulp roses,
hoard jasmine,
mask the smell
of all that’s yet
to die.


Ode to the Heart I Lost

I thought that hearts were meant to function as uteri,
to grow linings that bleed clotty when life won’t adhere,
to stall like rusty engines in barren winters,
unprepared for the seasonal shift.
Melon-balled, but ready to swell again.
At least that’s what I believed before the bar stool,
the baby blue half-shell at the far end of Frankie’s
that held me in isolation for four years
until language became dead air,
my larynx between my thighs,
my body a birthday party grab bag.
I shared drinks with the co-ed with bat tattoos
scattered up and down her back like ash,
not v-shaped like migratory birds, but haphazard and lonely,
like they didn’t know the others were there at all.
She sang death-metal karaoke after midnight
and always left with different fathers,
their wedding rings cleaving holes in slouched pockets.

You took her seat, a phoenix of muddy tires,
borderless and brazen. A fire hose through an open window.
A flood of sunken scars that joined mine in defiled chorus.
A history begging to be built with broken bricks.
Salvation rounded its mouth, it seemed,
to blow gentle along my scalloped shoulders,
to wish away my panic attacks,
to obscure the slogging bevy of needy half-siblings,
parental neglect, and odd jobs.
We agreed that memory is useless and only invites flies.
We drove away from Frankie’s and toward the silent fields
where nothing grows, and nothing dies,
where inadequacy mutes in moonlight
and every patch of seedless dirt ablates the withering heart.
You whispered tenderly, “it’s over; you’re home,”
and buried my wound like a prayer.


Selling Concessions

get in the Buick, my father said/leave the money behind/my paycheck bloodying the theatre’s soda-sticky floor/that wept red for what I could not/narrow office/36-year-old manager/runway for a series of small crashes/nail holes in the walls/vestiges of the storage closet it had once been/that I had now become/breath dragging and stagnant/stew left too long on the stove/how the meat thickens past ripe into leather/an impassable mountain range/I named forfeiture – called it female/made myself smaller

at 15 I still believed my body was mine/a delusion that disintegrates by adolescence – if you’re lucky/held fantasies of my father marching into the movie theatre/butterflying the bastard/pounding his paper plate face/then resuscitation – a wave/soundless/brutal, rushing and wrung out/narrow closets are for secrets, not salvation

boss called me baby/patted my backside/made me order his pizzas with pineapple and ham like I was his lady/servant – left the greasy aftermath/crumpled, rawboned napkins/discarded like his clingy wife and five children/I struggled with geometry homework as he begged/Stay after the midnight showing and you and I can watch a movie alone and he’d wink/no, thank you/maybe next time/I’m sorry.

I inherited that Buick when I graduated college/owned it just over a year/a 17-year-old drunk boy/rejecting the authority of a red light/opened me like a butterfly/policeman declined to make him walk the line/said he looked honest/scotch wafting off his breath two feet away/hot and desperate/an unripe plum in need of some grace and time

Amy Strauss Friedman is the author of the chapbook Gathered Bones Are Known to Wander (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016). Her poems have appeared in The Rumpus, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Escape Into Life, FLAPPERHOUSE, Red Paint Hill, decomP magazinE, and elsewhere. Amy earned her MA in Comparative Literature from Northwestern University. She was born and raised in Chicago where she taught English at Harper College and at Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development. She recently moved to Denver, Colorado where she teaches poetry to elementary school students. Her work can be found at More from this author →