Julie Benesh ~ Four Poems

My Problems

are so much more intriguing
than your problems.
My prob­lems have heft,
(although heft is not one
of my prob­lems thank God,
my genes, and my fine
metab­o­lism). Your problems
are a clus­ter of lofty vocational/
relational/financial desires
mis­matched to mea­ger resources,
a pile of cross-con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed detritus,
where­as mine are like a closet
on the verge of a makeover, a favorite
bou­tique I can shop in for free,
over­come by the excess of potential.

My prob­lems exude style
and sub­stance. People
write plays and fight wars
in admi­ra­tion and lamentation
of my prob­lems. The Western
canon is full of paeans
to my prob­lems; your problems
are a draw­er full of bust­ed can
open­ers and ran­cid pecan shells
left behind by peons.

We’ve all got our problems.
But would you even trade
your home­ly problems
for my come­ly ones?

No, you would not.

Such is the nature
of our problems.

            After Campbell McGrath



I know you know I know you know I know
my long­ing for indif­fer­ence to indifference
my deferred dif­fer­en­tial def­er­ence toward
def­er­ence, my insipid incip­i­ent reticent,
hes­i­tant dif­fi­dence is a mechanistic
duly dili­gent Messianic mechanisme
de defense:

denial, dis­place­ment, dis­so­ci­a­tion, desen­si­ti­za­tion, deflection
pro­jec­tion, intro­jec­tion, retroflec­tion, repression
regres­sion, ratio­nal­iza­tion, reac­tion formation
intel­lec­tu­al­iza­tion, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, iso­la­tion, undoing
sub­li­ma­tion, sup­pres­sion, com­pen­sa­tion, conversion
con­flu­ence, compartmentalization

any or all of the above.

To put it con­crete­ly, the tenor
of the human condition:
the mor­tal body, awareness
of con­scious­ness and its limits
the pos­si­bil­i­ty of rea­son, the struggle
with nature and her antecedents

is borne along by the vehicle
of fig­u­ra­tive lan­guage, symbols
of images like cym­bals accenting
the homage, the ascend­ing assent:

we have arrived at a consensual
under­stat­ed understanding
of arguably agreeable
dis­agree­ment or disagree-
able agreement.



Humor is the worst.
Literally no one finds it funny.
Ever, because it’s not mean,
it’s corny or cringe-ey, sometimes
all of the above, a tri­fec­ta of deflection.

It’s a lot like compliments.
Don’t give them, unless
specif­i­cal­ly invit­ed to do so,
espe­cial­ly at work.

At work, if they ask what you liked
about their pre­sen­ta­tion, don’t say you
liked their new hair­cut. And if they ask
how you like their new haircut,

say thank you for asking;
that’s very thoughtful
of you to seek my opinion.
Full stop. (Under no circumstances
should you say, it’d look great
on my pil­low, even if you preface
it with not to be creepy.)

And, unlike compliments
no one ever asks
for humor. Instead
they seek it out furtively
in speakeasies like comedy
clubs, late night talk shows
and social media, pil­low talk,
con­sent implic­it, complicit,
not from cowork­ers or bosses,
and cer­tain­ly not from the likes of you.

Or go on, laugh your way
to unem­ploy­ment like yet
anoth­er can­celed comedian,
but, instead, a can­celed bureaucrat
who threw away a secure career
for some dumb joke

It’s not worth it, that tickle
of mirth light­en­ing your heart.

No mat­ter how gentle
how well-intentioned
it leaves some­one out
and makes them feel
worse: your endorphins
surg­ing at their expense.
It’s pas­sive aggressive
or active­ly so, but sure­ly hostile,
or at best insensitive.

Even to chuck­le, to smile, at absur­di­ty is to piss
on tragedy, dis­re­spect­ing the hard-won misery
of some­one. If any­one is solemn,
every­one should be.

Nietzsche said a joke is an epigram
on the death of a feeling.

We need more grimness,
the type that resists
enan­tio­dro­mia, that flip
from grief to lev­i­ty that cracks
us up at a funer­al, con­ta­gious laughter
that reminds the assembled
of the hilar­i­ty inher­ent to our humanity
and that of the dear depart­ed, and makes
the whole room unite in tears.

Nothing good can come
of such unseem­ly glee.


Last Night

I. I saw you at the K‑mart in Lexington, Kentucky
where nei­ther of us had rea­son to be. I fondled
mix and match black and ecru poly­ester flo­ral prints;
stud­ied their minus­cule vari­a­tions, their infinite
com­bi­na­tions as if to pre­pare for a quiz.

You were small­er than I remem­bered, and quieter.
I said hi more loud­ly than usu­al while I pon­dered how
to ask what you are doing here, explain why
I was there, and com­ment how bizarre
that we were both there, but you brisked away

like I was the devil
you used to know.

II. My boss was moon­light­ing as my new dentist,
but his name was Bill (W)ilson. I’m not a drinker,
but when it comes to den­tal work I’m a believer
in any and all killers of pain. None of his equip-
ment was work­ing prop­er­ly even though I
and all the oth­er patients were var­i­ous­ly disrobed.

I had to use the restroom, but all the toilets
were filled with black soil; con­vert­ed into planters.
When I wan­dered back, a man in briefs
lounged on my chair. I felt dis­ap­point­ed to leave
a dread­ed task unfin­ished, but sometimes
one must cut one’s losses.


Julie Benesh is author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Initial Conditions and the poet­ry chap­book About Time. She has been pub­lished in Tin House, Another Chicago Magazine, Florida Review, and many oth­er places, earned an MFA from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and received an Illinois Arts Council Grant. She teach­es writ­ing craft work­shops at the Newberry Library and has day jobs as a pro­fes­sor, depart­ment chair, and man­age­ment con­sul­tant. She holds a PhD in human and orga­ni­za­tion­al sys­tems. Read more at juliebenesh.com.