Tim Tomlinson was born in Brooklyn, and raised on Long Island, where he was educated by jukeboxes and juvenile delinquents. He quit high school in 1971 and began a life of purposeless wandering that led to purpose. He’s lived in Boston, Miami, New Orleans, London, Florence, Shanghai, Manila, Andros Island in the Bahamas, and Cha-am, Thailand. Currently, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Deedle. He is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He is the author of the chapbook Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse, the poetry collection Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, and the forthcoming collection of short fiction, This Is Not Happening to You (due late summer, 2017). He is a Professor of Writing at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies Program. He’s an avid scuba diver with just under 300 logged dives, and a 200-hr Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor.
At Night, after the Screams
we hear him walk
to the kitchen,
his callused feet scuff
the hardwood floor, hear
him mutter curses
at the carpet,
perpetually curled, hear him
on the linoleum
of the kitchen
So much is hidden
by our mother,
behind cans and boxes.
that he loves—
Mallomars, Mr. Chips,
We hear him
the cans clinking,
the boxes tearing open,
and his hands,
through wax paper
and plastic packaging.
the refrigerator suck
its light through the cracks
of our bedroom doors.
When he stands
in that cold light,
when he upends the milk carton,
when he douses
in his throat,
does he wonder, as we
what made him scream,
his mother’s name?
(after Dorianne Laux)
When I was sixteen years old and did not
need sleep to feel rested, or a job for
money, I joined the veterans outside
the Camp Street Blood Bank at 7 a.m.
where they smoked cigarettes peeled off
the cobblestones and drank MD 20-20
from pint bottles. They wiped their mouths on
the greasy sleeves of fringed jackets or jungle
cammies, looking for a piece of cardboard
or some old magazine to slap on the spit
and piss and vomit laminating
the sidewalks they slept on. I did not feel
soiled by the filth on their fingernails,
the grease in their hair, or the gravel in their
throats. I was enthralled by the lies they told
about where they’d been, what they’d seen, how
many they’d killed, and the way they told those
lies, as if they believed them. As if I
believed them, too.
Inside the clinic
we reclined on hard gurneys, flies lining
the rims of Dixie cups filled with urine.
“Shame, Shame, Shame” on the radio,
unlicensed nurses in tight white uniforms
dancing the Bump between rows of our
worn-out soles. They pushed thick cold cannulas
in our arms and our bloods drained into
plastic tubing. Arterial blood, slow
and thin. Blood over the legal limit, blood
so dirty it had fleas. Blood of our fathers
who’d disowned us, blood of our mothers
whose faces we’d failed to erase. At night,
I’d be back on Bourbon Street, a pint low,
a dollar flush, Buster’s beans and rice glued
to my ribs. Blue notes from clarinets
and guitars joining the termites spinning
in the halos of street lamps, go-cups crowning
the trash cans and dribbling into the gutter
with the butts and the oysters and the sweat
off the shower-capped jheri-curled tap
dancer from Desire Project scraping spoons
across the slats of a metal scratchboard.
Hawkers barking at the swarms of tourists
gawking at strippers in storefront displays,
and the runaway girls at the topless
shoeshine spit-shining white loafers
on the feet of insurance agents from
Mutual of Omaha. The veterans,
my blood brothers, they’d lurk in the shadows
and scan the sidewalks for half-smoked butts,
and I’d help them put together the lies
they’d tell to strangers tonight, and repeat
to me in the morning, forgetting half
of those lies were mine, and I’d forget, too.
At dawn the gulls laugh again.
Two gray angelfish ascend …
… kiss the surface …
… recede …
the water’s surface wrinkles.
Pink light separates the gray sky from the gray sea.
Enormous clouds form like the aftermath of great explosions.
How pensive this daybreak,
a grenade without a pin.
In a needling insect heat the dawn’s final breeze fades
A jeep’s lights flash on, it backs out of the commissary.
Pelicans lift from the pylons.
The Cuban whore retreats up the Bluff Road,
her sandals dangling from a finger.
Once on a moonless night
I lost my companions.
Their beams were bright
but I’d edged over
an outcropping into
darkness and touched down softly
on a rubble ledge
where the wall pulsed
with half-hidden forms, eyes
on the ends of stalks,
spiny feelers testing the current,
in a blink,
spaghetti worms retracting.
So sadly familiar—
things I desire withdrawing,
I extend a hand.
The reef folding into itself
like a fist. Then,
from the stacks of plate coral,
the arm of an octopus slid,
and another, two more,
for my fingertips,
my palm. The soft sack
of the octopus followed,
the flesh of my wrist,
my arm. My heart
pounding. Turquoise pink
explosions rushing across
the octopus’s form. At my armpit,
she tucked in,
sliding her arms
around my neck
and shoulder, her skin
the blue and yellow
of my dive skin.
She stayed with me
such a short time,
those narrow slits,
heavy with trust,
and my breath
so calm, so easy.
banged on their tanks,
summoning me to ascend.