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Thursday, July 26, 2018


by Rebecca Starks

“I shall be there when the wave has gone by.”
–Marianne Moore

How to put it . . . I don’t remember,
I doodle, I’ve done it since grade school—
pencil lines meaning one mood                     
or another, today vague,
yesterday wave; once friend,
now drug. Go ahead,

subpoena the narrow-ruled pages,
make what you can of the illuminated margins.
An eagle gutting a goose, a savage
spiral, a millipede uncurling,
a mushroom in the rain . . .
who’s to say it’s not shorthand for boredom?         
Besides, I’ve burned them.

In the moment it’s like psychosis,
you forget to notice
the voices never surprise you
unless you’re corrected—then it sticks
for a day or two. With them, the introductions,
Mr Man-of-the-Road—sorry, Mr Street-Smart—
shaking hands with Mr Exemplary—
sorry, Mr Winner—and I
the magician’s saw pulled one way
then the other, like the tide, Truth
the lady with the flexible spine.

What couldn’t I tell you
in confidence, which enjoys such nuance
in both tongues, including itself
and its opposite, which is how they sat,
as one must to feel attraction, or not,
Mr Winner offering to remove my jacket
and Mr Street-Smart asking,
was my necklace made of rawhide.
Otherwise I was invisible.

I was the vodka neither touched,
the puck sliding past bodyguards,
the shadow behind the lattice,
the fish hiding under stones,
the poet’s living and buried speech,             
the old man’s marlin stripped by the sea.
I was manly and hangdog, flattery and threat,
throat-clearing and chuckle and gleam,
collar and cufflink, the shakedown
comparing watches . . . I was there.

Do you think it matters what was said?
What was agreed upon?
You can hear it in the question.

When my son was two,
someone asked, watching him play,
Don’t you wish you knew what he’s thinking?
I laughed. He looked at shoes
and said Shoes, he looked at me
and said Up, he looked at nothing
and said More. A cup turned upside down
has no bottom. In truth

I was superfluous—
the two men spoke the same language,
every exchange translating roughly:
You could be useful to me. And also to me.

Though at one point Mr Winner spun a coin
saying In God We Trust, and when I was at a loss
Mr Street-Smart suggested ne doveryat' nikomu,
which means, more or less, go in peace,
as nevedenie means deniability.

Which reminds me that near the end
when I translated freedom, Mr S-S corrected, “freedom”—
as one parent might answer a child, forever
and the other, indefinitely.

What would I say? What wouldn’t I?
What is paranoia but whistling in the dark?
Or, if you prefer the Russian, ostentatious optimism?

Rebecca Starks lives in Vermont. She has poems and short fiction appearing or forthcoming in Baltimore Review, The Hopper, Crab Orchard Review, Ocean State Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Slice, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of Rattle’s 2018 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor, and her manuscript is a finalist for the 2018 Richard Snyder Memorial Publication Prize.