Monkey Bars

Gotham teacher Matthew Lippman's poetry collection Monkey Bars was recently published. He is also author of The New Year of Yellow and online chapbook In My Country of Bob Dylan.

Even if you’re not one for poetry on a daily basis, you will feel the force of Matthew’s work. Acclaimed poet Tony Hoagland says, “Lippman’s poems fly straight into the center of trouble and joy of the moment,” and Publisher’s Weekly says, “Thoughtful readers might first laugh, and then recoil, and then sympathize.”

Take a climb on this poem from Monkey Bars:


Kids, pick up your socks and get out of your cars.
Walk to your windows and break them with your teeth.
Run bleeding from your homes
into the woods behind the mall,
the movie complex,
the used tire lot that burns for days.
Go to the gas station bathrooms and clean yourselves up,
wash down the cuts, the belly scars,
fix your hair and eat a grape.
Time is not running out
and the world will be with you
for a long time.
You are beautiful and you have chewed too long
on the wires;
your gums are swollen
and you are beautiful.
Leave your schools; return to them.
Burn your books on disease and germs,
affectation and numbers.
Re-write them from memory,
from loss,
from the birds that sing in your eyes.
Love your mothers,
they are hurt and wounded
and will always be lonely.
You are lonely and make the best sounds.
Sit on your rocks and wash yourselves in the autumn leaves.
Wipe your legs with the spit of your boyfriends,
your lilac tongues,
the friends you hate
when the moon is full and the sky is pink.
Climb from your televisions and dance naked,
touch every inch of your fourteen thousand year old bodies
and stop.
The stillness will make you a raccoon.
The stillness will hurt.
It will burn into your lungs and knock the breath from your muscles.
Go to this.
You must have this—
in your empty parking lots,
your wood paneled basements with the shaggy rugs—
the stillness of water,
the blue-green
of being so beautifully alone.

(for Rachel)

And when we go to the movies on this night
I hold Rachel’s hand in my lap;
Greta Garbo is nowhere on the screen and Cary Grant
has been dead a thousand years.  
Charlie Chaplin knows nothing and Fred Astaire
dances between the silence of light bulbs.  
In the movie theater her hand is a vacuum cleaner and a pulley;
it is a bedroom with no locks; it is a field of grass
with a blue boat.  I get in it
and sail to the ocean of the moon
while nighttime bends me into the shakes.  
Her hand holds me before it guides me and
it never guides me.  
Out there in the dim light of our streetlamps
a bassoon plays in my chest next to my heart
and we leave the theater for falafel and a station stop
in the kitchen.  She holds my hand there too, at the sink, in the soap,
on the greasy plate of chicken juice
that is the greasy sex juice of marriage.  
What we do there has nothing to do with breasts and thighs
but before the silence
we are naked against the sugar, the silver forks,
the clean glasses that sparkle after our lips have lathered them up
with sweat, silence and the busted up voices of middle age.  
I hold her hand to stay quiet in the cheekbone smash and fortune teller satin
that is marriage.   Believe me,
I never thought it would ever be so soft,
the inside of her palm, the wrap of her fingers around my fingers,
the way thumbs can roll down hills like children laughing from top to bottom,
hysterical, bona fide brilliant
in being kids.  
Our kid knows, she falls asleep in her right
while the left draws circles on the ceiling above
her closed eyes.  I stand outside her door each night
and watch them race across, one end of the room to the next,
in a ballet of silence that mimics a dream
then merges into one halo that descends over her head--
the angel that she is,
the angel she is not.  
Perhaps I am a voyeur but Rachel tells me,
Her drama is a pigtail we will never be able to cut in two.  
Still, I want to hurtle across some parking lot
with a bouquet of bougainvillea
to shut up the whole world, for a moment,
so the whole world can hold hands
the way marriage makes a man and a woman decide
in the earnest breath of acceptance,
to continue.



Reprinted by permission of Typecast Publishing. For details on Matthew and his book, visit: