Valentina Gnup: California Poets Part 5, Four Poems
December 22nd, 2022
California Poets: Part V
How to Survive Online Dating
When Seriouspainter1956 tells you he still hopes his art will be discovered by a big
gallery, tell him you like a positive thinker and meet him for a drink.
While you wait for your order, and he slips you just enough cash
for his cocktail, try not to register your alarm and don’t remind him that this kind of move
may have worked when he was seven (with his mom shopping for Matchbox cars at
ToysRus) but you need a man with a wee bit deeper pockets.
Don’t laugh out loud when CoolJazzandSmiles rides to the restaurant on his bicycle but
doesn’t own a padlock so you are forced to eat outside on the patio in December (in the
rain) to keep a lookout, as bikes do get stolen all the time in Oakland, even when they are
And do not focus on his hairy little hobbit hands or his jewelry.
Feel a renewed sense of energy when Goldenpipes4U, who earns his living as a
voice-over artist, does a brilliant imitation of the electronic voice inside an ATM. Try to
stay upbeat when he gets a bit too ambitious, attempting impressions of Richard Nixon
and Al Pacino, like it’s 1977 and he’s auditioning for the Johnny Carson Show.
Don’t say a word as he continues to remind you that he paid for your drinks, as if it might
be a novel occurrence, a kind of one time only event. Don’t dwell on his cargo pants or
his loud Hawaiian shirt.
You will lose hope. You will threaten to take down your profile daily.
You will tell your best friend you cannot bear to look at one more shirtless bathroom
selfie, or standing in front of his car selfie, or proud big fish photo. You cannot tolerate
one more balding man hiding under a wide variety of hats, no more porn star mustaches,
or anything taken in the beige dust of Burning Man.
But wait! You’ll get compliments:
You look good for 62!
Did you dress up just for me? You’d be gorgeous if you’d dye your hair.
So persist! Arrange a happy hour with MtTamHiker07
who will wear shorts to the wine bar and those Nike sneakers with individual toes, which
will make him look a little like a capybara in the wild.
But what did your mother always tell you? Clothes don’t make the man!
Your optimism will fade when he sees the check and asks,
Why’d you choose such a pricey place?
You'll offer to pay, and he’ll take you up on it.
He’s saving his money for a lawyer.
You'll learn that his ex-wife has not allowed him to see their two children since the day he
revealed he wanted to experiment with having other partners, he says he’s polyamorous,
which he tries to make sound noble, or genetic—like someone born with a love of science
or perfect pitch.
Your most recent date, Realdeal57, is charming—he makes you laugh! He’s handsome!
He speaks French! He tells you twice he loves your name and your hair. He says he’d
have flirted with you at Trader Joe’s,
if you’d met in real life.
But you’ll get home and he’ll write that he just doesn't feel the romance.
This is where you’ll say to yourself, of course you don’t believe in fairy tales, but sitting
across from Realdeal57, you felt like Cinderella at the ball—except the prince apparently
didn’t choose you, and your golden carriage is a Toyota Matrix from a previous decade
that needs new tires and could really use a wash.
The Language of Waitresses, 1979
I wear a red polyester dress
that laces in front
(think bodice or wench)
with a pair of ruffled underpants,
(think baby doll or can-can dancer).
I’m almost twenty-two and aware of my effect on men.
The bar is down a long hall—
I balance pink ladies and tequila sunrises
on a round cork tray while dodging drunk guests
and other waitresses.
I flirt shamelessly, an autopilot of smiles
and one-line comebacks.
I pretend to listen to every story and dumb joke
as I run through the list of specials in my head.
The manager propositions me,
he says sleeping with one woman
your whole life is like eating only vanilla ice cream.
I kindly decline then serve dinner to his wife and kids.
Tonight the fried chicken is underdone,
the line cook tells me to give the meat
a little radar love.
He tells me to 86 the halibut
and asks me to refill his Coke.
On my break, I eat the same salad from the salad bar
and stop a run in my nylons with clear nail polish
I borrow from Sharon, a woman
who has waited tables for thirty years.
She says you could do something more with your hair,
Sweetheart, and hints at the wisdom of push-up bras.
At the end of my shift,
I spend thirty minutes on side work—
marrying ketchup bottles,
filling salt and peppers, slicing lemons.
The busboy hoses down the rubber floor mats
under the fluorescent light,
the cook blasts Foreigner’s
Feels Like the First Time from the kitchen radio.
I clock out at 11:15 and drive home in my Plymouth Arrow.
I sit alone at the kitchen table,
my hair smells like greasy fish, my feet ache.
I count my tips—
I smooth the short stacks of dirty wrinkled ones,
I build my little coin towers.
When We Were Horses
When we were horses,
we knew only the mad gallop across uneven earth
the muddy real estate that calls to every animal.
No one could tell us how each step
relied on the integrity of tendons
the scissored geometry of stifle and fetlock.
We inhabited our wildness.
We stood on all four legs, unaware that the map
of our blood depended on it.
We did not understand our own fragile design
how our delicate ankles might shatter
under the heft of our glorious anatomy
how life can become
a cracked cannon bone or fractured pastern.
We grazed timothy and bluegrass
we dreamed our apple and carrot dreams.
More Than Sparrows Fear not, the bible says you are worth more than many sparrows, though your face is a study in accordioned lines, scissored switchbacks, and eucalyptus bark— a galaxy of abandoned planets. Trees communicate underground— in their silent poetry of fungal filaments, Douglas firs and paper birches can save each other. It seems those who stop loving us ruin our landscapes, clear-cut our forests, unaware of the destruction they leave. When you were younger, time moved slowly, trouble arrived on the evening news— now, you can barely keep up with the sorrow. Every morning, you still write a name in the condensation on your bathroom mirror— you can see yourself so clearly in the letters before they disappear into the sink.
A California native, Valentina Gnup received her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles in 2002. In 2019 she won the Lascaux Prize in Poetry; in 2015 she won the Rattle Reader’s Choice Award; in 2011 she won the Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation; and in 2009 she won the Joy Harjo Poetry Award from Cutthroat, Journal of the Arts. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals including December, Brooklyn Review, Nimrod, and The New Guard. She lives in Oakland, CA.