“The Scales” by Manuel Paul López

Manuel Paul López


She dyes my hair black on Tuesday nights.
I think she wants me to look like Trent Reznor.
Or like that long-haired guy from AFI. Or like Nobukata Kawai,
the guitarist from her favorite Japanese band, Envy.
I believe this though my brother says I look like Janet Wood from Three’s Company,
and that makes us both laugh.
She says my face is too oily.
My mother says, She’s the one. Isn’t she?
I nod obediently and remain silent.
I can’t stand the way she bites her fingernails.
She likes to butter my toast, but instead of butter, she uses bacon grease,
and I hate it when people touch my food!
She plays my bass guitar in my spare room.
Her timing is impeccable, but I’m too scared to ask her to play in my band.
She even knows all of her scales.
I don’t want to be overshadowed. Besides, she’s too pretty to be in a rock band.
I shouldn’t think this way because she’s awesome sometimes.
My friends think so, too, though I think they secretly want her to front our band.
This all sadly reminds me of that heartbreaker of a movie, Rock Star,
the film where Marky Mark’s character is secretly nudged out of the band he helped create.
I barely own any gear.
My days in the band are numbered—I can feel it.
Actually, my bandmates told me my days in the band are numbered.
I suppose everyone’s days are numbered,
so that’s why I want her to have our babies! Three of them!
Since we both eat fast and really really like energy drinks.
We’ll name them The Pointer Sisters even if we have three boys!
But she’s a smoker and I don’t think she’ll ever stop.
I can’t help but imagine ourselves in a delivery room.
Some day waiting in some hospital in some Boll Weevil’s kind of town,
waiting for our little bambino’s arrival.
For godsakes, our first child is going to be a large Humphrey Bogart Bobblehead:
squinty eyes, fedora, a Lucky Strike in its mouth for her to pluck from its lips and say:
Share with mommy … shaaaare … shaaaare …
A real bonding experience between mommy and newborn Humphrey Bogart Bobblehead.
I can already read the Tweets, Facebook, and Myspace posts as I stand there with my hands on hips
in total disbelief, asking our doctor for some kind of guidance, wisdom,
for godsakes in this strange David Lynch movie moment—
But she doesn’t want kids, anyway.
She says she only pets them if they can spell Mississippi,
if they can refrain from shitting in their pants.
She likes the Cars but hates Ric Ocasek.
She keeps the exact amount of change in her pocket at all times and she insists that I do the same.
So what do I do? Naturally, I do. She tests me. Sometimes
when I least expect it. One day we were swimming at the Plunge.
She reached into my bathing suit pocket and grabbed my scrotum really hard
and said, Nope, no bones here.
Everyone laughed.
She grinned then dove back into the deep end without ever making a splash.
She always tests me. I always fail. She says it’s bad luck to always fail.
I say No shit. So that means I must be the unluckiest bastard that ever existed.
She rolls her eyes then plays Manaqui Lazer songs on her iPod,
her thumb and fingers plucking bass lines across her thigh.
I can’t stand people who read cereal boxes.
I especially can’t stand people who read cereal boxes when they should be reading Baudelaire, she says.
I can’t stand Baudelaire, but I’ll never admit this,
because if I do, she’ll insist that I articulate this judgment (most likely in front of others),
and will prod me until something foolish escapes from my mouth.
She’ll call my analysis childish, naïve, and grossly insufficient for a guy my age—
especially for having such a large head.
And don’t think I mean that figuratively, she’ll say, you are, after all,
the jackass who can never find a baseball cap that fits.
She rubs black dye in my hair while she restates all of this.
I convince myself that she does all of this because she cares about me,
though never of love (I can feel it in her fingertips).
I reassess this relationship most days while staring at the sun:
Is Ric Ocasek really worth fighting for?
Only to nod
and only to remain silent

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010


Manuel Paul López: “I’m currently living in a small, small agricultural town in southern California, about 14 miles from the Mexicali border. This place might not be London, or Paris, or Los Angeles, but there’s love here too.” (web)

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