Two Poems by Ethan Cunningham

Ugly Sweater Story

it came in the mail                   a gift from the wife                 striped like sick zebras
sheep gone ill and florid         woolen and hot but not           quite the right size, she
begs me to wear it to               work, to outings, for               walks in the street, but I
want to vomit                          Christmas                                this is not
under no obligation                 should I wear this                    abortive painting across
my tentative breast.                 fast forward a year                  I wore it once and

scared shitless to be seen        hide behind cubicle walls       obscure the abomination
stretching over poofing arms  “It goes with your eyes”         say the women
“It looks so good on you”       they say                                   are they liars?

or color blind?                         “I wouldn’t be caught dead    in that thing”
the men groan                         “looks like tie-dye                  gone awry”
pack it away                            deep in drawer’s pit                beneath stacks of socks

never again                              will light shine on this            gift from the gods of ugly
until the giver beckons me      wear it again, swallow            my fashion sense shame.
later,  I walk alone on             the street in Kenmore Square  where the hip and chic

count coup and announce       wardrobe prowess in               long confident strides
noses held high and away       from dirty groundlings            then there’s me
no bones of thread artistry      in this whole dumb sack         sidewalk to square

(a triangle, really) divides       like a concrete star                  upon the squares that follow
the blacktop, only he and I     fashionisto and bland me        raptor and pigeon
passing on the wing, wearing the same plumage                   our eyes lock a moment

as if to say                               “I didn’t choose this sweater  help.”

9:15pm, Last Flight to Nashville

It’s a dance through Detroit’s airport             actually I’m running with luggage
muscles emasculated by 13 hours                   of hunger 6 hours of waiting on flights
delayed in some college party town               (they’ll say it’s a storm)
but when I board the big thing                        they’ve run out of beer (it’s complementary)
19-year olds raided the liquor cabinet             to death it seems I’ve been freezing my ass
off in nowhere New York waiting                  watching                     withering
for planes that didn’t come except in             my many fantasies when books batteries ran dry
landing in  De  –  troit  only to discover         all connections to Le Ville de Nash
disturbingly severed by the first flight’s         lateness desperate for nourishment for a
companion to share bitter ironic maybe         witty remarks (if they’re witty) wallowing
in this winter of discontent                             like a sheep sauntering to slaughter in its
own house I wait in zigzagged lines               two hundred people long with only one
axeman executing sheep and another helping (or  not  helping) the same tubby
bald-headed couple for seventy-five              superb minutes and thirty minutes left on the
last flight out and the minutes ticking down   off       and      away into yesterday
forever I consider it                                        sleeping in the terminal
but remember my crisping contact                 lenses desiccating in red-cracked eyes
I’ll have to get rid of them then                      navigate Motor City while driving blind

The crowd stirs restless   a woman                 angry talks at her kid with cusses for the
predicament she’s in   desperate                     dying to leave but afraid of losing my
two-hour spot I grab a working woman         passing by and beg for help
her eyes look at me like a starving                 Ethiopian wasting to sticks awaiting a ticket
to the States she slips me a secret                   number in a huddled exchange and five
minutes later she snatches a spot                    at 9:09pm                    boarding one minute ago
a quarter mile away    somehow                     I reach the gate to freedom
runway lights like pulsing diamonds              fallen through a torn night pocket left scattered
on the slate tarmac for the long-nosed            birds to solely subsist upon (this strict diet of
paying passengers only to shit them out         somewhere else for some other bird to suck up
incestuous       pornographic               take     your pick) we lift off thrust into fluffed sky
strewn with cotton candy colors                     and away         into the dark    night
one last flight              to Nashville                 9:19pm            free   at   last.

About the Poet
Ethan Cunningham’s short works appear in print, on-screen, and on the stage. Most recently, his publications include pieces in Abstract Elephant, New Plains Review, and Topical Poetry. Although we live in uncertain times, his hope is that each of us can find comfort in discovering the universality of the human experience through poetry.