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).

Joanna Fuhrman