Three Poems by Joanna Fuhrman
The Happiness Factory
No one gets rich teaching students to build pigeon-
shaped dwellings, but it’s not a bad way to ignore
the mountain crumbling to the east, or to pretend
you don’t notice the smell of smoke drifting in
from the north. I know some of my students
would rather be asleep in bed, and that others are
daydreaming about pre-gaming with their ancestors.
They have a faraway look in their eyes as if their
great-grandmother is holding their ponytail up
during a quick before-party hurl. Some students
are so present that I can feel their cheeks vibrating
away from their skulls. Once a student touched
my ankle when I was half-asleep. I kindly explained
I was happily married, but I was so flattered
that the rest of the day everything I ate
tasted like chocolate-hazelnut Kahlua gelato.
Inside some pigeons, chrysanthemums blossom.
Within others, blue monsters made out of frozen
vodka open their mouths to the dark. Some pigeons
have bright yellow wheels that flash like traffic lights.
Others hide their mobility under unflappable wings.
One day students threw chairs across the room,
I hid beside an industrial stapler near a half-built bird.
When the commotion ended, the room smelled like salt
and moist armpits. Some students asked why are we
building the birds? Will people actually use them
as their homes or will they be primarily for travel?
How will they be distributed? How much will they cost?
I made up stories depending on who was in the room.
I’d tell them that one pigeon was being built to shelter
a future god. another would be used to store a special
refrigerator capable of reproducing the food removed
from its shelves. I told them of “top secret” designs.
One would be so comfortable that its silk pillows
would instantly cure PTSD and another would be
so quick it would travel faster than a rumor on Twitter.
I often said that if we became experts at building
the birds it wouldn’t even matter if our planet
died. The pigeons could be our new homes.
It wouldn’t matter that none of us had a key.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
Every year, our belief in the future is more defunded.
We try embracing the spaces in austerity’s lace, funneling
chaos into kaleidoscopic slivers, into funky
prepositions bumping their hopes against malfunctioning
doors, traveling skyward on rickety funiculars
in pre-gentrified cities. If we are fundamentally
timeless, can we still be damaged by time? Fundamentally
we morph like financial products not yet defunded,
delicate enough to balance on the roof of a funicular.
Washing the debris of the past through a funnel,
we find joy in the smell of malfunction,
creeping through consciousness like funky
caterpillars. Is this shifting the reason today’s funky
music sounds like yesterday’s dirge? Fundamentally
we are itinerant nitwits malfunctioning
in rumpus rooms. Dimwitted and defunded,
we scurry through cities in funnel-
adorned fedoras, hijack trackless funiculars
helicoptering into funiculars —
not really crashing, more like funky
lovemaking than disaster. We funnel
the debris to create worlds, fundamental
as strangers to our defunded
metropolis. We wait for a malfunction.
Who doesn’t love juicy malfunctions,
the way they hang off the back of the funicular,
debris sticking to tendrils? Proud yet defunded,
we don’t care about propriety anymore. Our funky
scent drips over our nation, new and fundamentally
free, like space and time departing a funnel
and drifting apart. No longer needing to funnel
meaning from the objects that malfunction,
we unleash our butterflies into fundamentals,
waiting before we exit this inter-atomic funicular,
celebrating the spaces between teeth, the funky
breath of abject freedom. We embrace defunding.
Fundamentally can’t we do more than funnel
our hope into malfunctioning vessels? Defeated? Defunded?
Oh, funk it — even a broken funicular can be fun.
The Adjunct Commuter
I’m waiting for the bus and imagine the street is made
of money, but it’s not the type of money accepted on this
planet or any planet. Sometimes I’m waiting for the bus
and I see the word “new” projected on people’s faces, but
not my own. I am no longer new. What are you if you
aren’t new? The bus is on the left side, and I am on the right.
I am waiting for the bus, but I am only wearing my Underoos,
and my stuffed cat can’t get on the bus because she doesn’t
have a MetroCard, and I am trying to pay the fare with a wallet
full of pigeon blood. It multiplies as it spills through the center
of the empty bus, foaming mouths at the edges of bloody waves.
My clones wear animal masks (lion, flamingo, toad) while we wait
for the bus. The bus is inside my skin riding my spine. None of us
is small enough to get inside it. I don’t care where the bus
is going anymore, but I want to be on it. Have you ever kissed
an august Buddha in the marsupial pouch of a bus? It feels
like being the soul of oatmeal, but better. Everyone I have
ever loved is on that bus. They are going to a protest, but nobody
remembers what the issue is, or the issue keeps changing,
like the words on the signs: the name of the candidate
or the name of the war. We are going to the march because
we want to be together, but aren’t. We are waiting for different
buses that don’t arrive. Waiting for a bus from inside an iceberg,
and before we can get on the bus, the icebergs have to melt.
We want them to melt because we haven’t had sex in twenty-four
and-a-half days, or because we like to eat grass-fed lamb burgers
in the back of a rhinestone stretch limousine that circles Alaska
before we can even find the bus stop. It’s possible I fell asleep
and we are all melting icebergs waiting for the bus, flooding
Foster Avenue with salt water and half-frozen chunks of displaced
whale spirits. One day I am waiting so long for the bus that I forget
I am waiting for a bus and find myself inventing music, dairy-free
béchamel and urban tetherball. They crown me the biggest shark
in the biggest city of the universe, and I am on every TV channel,
big-toothed grinning like I’m the host or something, but nobody watches
TV anymore. Everyone would rather be writing post-linguistic poetry
or studying artisanal adzuki bean canning. If a woman smiles on TV
and nobody watches yadda yadda, you know. So I go back to my bus stop,
remember I should have been waiting for the bus. I enjoy waiting
for buses. I’m a bus waiter. There’s beauty in waiting for the bus.
All three poems are from To a New Era (Hanging Loose Press 2021).