Short History of Bad Relationships
Caught head lice in Mexico
from my brother or my sister:
I’m not sure which. My mother
suggested pet shampoo, but it
was ineffective. My mother
suggested a trip to the ocean
with my siblings in the back seat.
For two long weeks,
I pulled bugs from my hair,
flicked them out the window of her car.
My sister helped. We were nitpicking.
Had a fling with a guy in Isla Mujeres,
a drunk frat boy from Texas.
Perhaps he caught lice, too.
We never spoke again,
so I had no way of knowing.
A hurricane hit the island,
and I contracted dysentery.
Back home in Chicago,
I gave my boyfriend head lice.
I didn’t tell him about
the asshole from Texas.
My boyfriend was the jealous type
and prone to sudden violence.
He had to get a Kwell prescription
filled at the corner drugstore.
Later that morning I stood in the shower,
washed parasites from my scalp,
watched nits swirl into the drain.
I didn’t think about the future,
just the eradication of pests.
My two births
lasted 48 hours
and 24 hours.
The process of
took fifteen years
until my blood flow
ground to a halt.
Harder still is
letting go of someone
who beat me
to the punch:
I invited you
then clung to your leg
and begged you to stay
when you finally
decided to go.
after moving across
over and over,
I’d know how
The fact is
I hold on
as hard as I can,
until somebody else
wins the contest.
Left Behind at the Poetry Leaves Exhibit
My poem dangles from
a tree 2500 miles away:
the other side of the continent,
in the state where you live.
Words, wrapped in plastic,
swinging like fish
on the end of a nylon line.
Since you don’t own a car,
you promised to take
a series of buses to see
my poem, then wander
across the campus, searching
for a tree with my name on it.
For a moment, you could
pretend I was there,
and the words animated
by my actual body,
rather than two-dimensional,
tied by a third party
to the end of an eroding branch.
But it’s too far for you now,
and you don’t know
the bus schedule.
Your boss finally gave you
more hours at your job, and
my words are less important
than they used to be.
In case you change your mind,
my poem will remain
at the end of the branch
until the end of next week,
twisting in wind gusts
while trying its hardest
to attract attention from strangers.
Tarzan legs: squirrel
leaps to branch of magnolia tree,
ten feet from his perch, lands so hard
the trunk shakes. He knows
what he wants: a lunch of blossoms,
and many blossoms, just a nibble
or two here and there, then
moving on. He rips an entire flower
from the tree, stuffs it in his mouth,
finds it not to his liking.
Squirrel averts his eyes, while
the rest of shredded blossom
plummets to earth. Chooses another,
then another. Same problem each time:
blossom either not quite done,
or done to a crisp. He leaves the tree,
runs across a telephone wire,
disappears, in search of better food.
Tree stays upright, offers branches
to new predators. Next day, rain.
Blossoms, sodden and defeated,
ready to expire, yet premature,
good only for devouring.
Squirrel continues his search
for fruit no one else can reach,
pays no heed to the sacrifice.
grasps towards the prize,
always on the next branch over.
Pinocchio was cornered
by a fox named Honest John
one glorious day as he skipped off
on wooden legs towards school.
Despite the puppet’s protests,
John convinced Pinocchio
that pleasure was more important
than prescribed notions of work.
Pinocchio was just a boy,
obeying adults’ stern directives
without questioning their motives.
John placed the Ace of Spades
in Pinocchio’s outstretched fingers,
his coveted ticket to liberation.
Soon the wooden fool found himself
standing before pleasure’s gates,
open for his own destruction.
The glittering city offered diversions
which involved the breaking of various taboos:
cigar smoking, brick throwing, shooting pool,
fighting with sticks, gorging himself
with every imaginable type of food,
with no concern for consequences.
Nobody noticed the huddled figures
in the back room that used to be human,
naughty boys turned to donkeys
by their own shortsighted lust,
their human appendages dissolving one by one,
until it was too late to turn back.
Nobody heard the braying and moaning
of caged and tormented animals
as their master thrust them into boxes,
ready to be shipped to the salt mines.
When Pinocchio laughed,
a hee-haw noise exploded from his lungs,
and he knew he’d been hoodwinked.
A hairy tail burst through the seat of his pants,
and long donkey ears erupted
from both sides of his head.
It was too late for his companion,
who had enjoyed the spoils of Pleasure Island
without any moral compunctions.
That boy was already a jackass,
destined to remain so forever.
Pinocchio was only half-a-jackass,
so he escaped in the nick of time,
and still stood a chance at redemption.
Like all stories, this tale
has at least two morals—
remember Pinocchio’s fate the next time
you want to tuck into that third drink,
and never trust anyone named Honest John.
Leah Mueller is an indie writer and spoken word performer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of two chapbooks and four books. Her next book, “Misguided Behavior, Tales of Poor Life Choices” will be published by Czykmate Press in Autumn, 2019. Leah’s work appears or is forthcoming in Blunderbuss, The Spectacle, Outlook Springs, Mojave River Review, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, Barnhouse, and other publications. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp humor poetry contest.