Sunday, April 1, 2012

It's National Poetry Month!

For National Poetry Month, I will be posting select poems from my book Dispatch from the Future, and the stories "behind" them. Dispatch will be available July 17.


CIRCUS MUSIC


Count back by sevens beginning with the last number
you remember. I'll wait, said the Serbian Jew to the lame girl

who blushed at her wet shoes. West 72nd Street was a puddle
from Broadway to the Hudson and the traffic came and returned.

In Brooklyn you could lie in the street in front of the hospital
and not die. Sixty-three, she said, like a question of him.

For the last eleven hours I had worn a feathered headband
and taken dictation from a woman in Utah. I wanted

to know what had happened to the girl's leg, but I was also
thirsty. He had to know. If I were him I'd ask her every day.

The night the circus marches the elephants through midtown,
the girl would say, have you ever been? Yes, I would say,

once. Well, she would say. No. Yes. No. She might say
it wasn't an accident. Pretend to hold a knife in your hand

and people will think it's your own. Her cane was on my foot,
but I stood still. Fifty-six and forty-nine. If she had picked

a larger number to begin with, I could have stood with the cane
on my foot forever. I was so cold then; I wore so many hats.

Can I get you something? His yarmulke was secured to his head
with gold hairpins. No, I said. I don't know what I want, I said.

The girl stopped counting and apologized for her cane. Don't
apologize, I said. Please, I said. It was a lion, she said. Forty-two,

I said, right? It was a land mine. I didn't ask, I said. It was my mother,
she said, in our bathroom. Thirty-five? It was me. I did it. It was me.

Notes: I wrote this poem was I was 20. I worked as a legal assistant for an art lawyer who lived on west 72nd Street, transcribing handwritten notes for a book on cultural heritage policy she was editing. I figured out that I could get her to yell at me less if I dressed up like Frida Kahlo, and she would let me borrow a yellow feathered headband to wear while I worked. She went to Utah to ski and left me alone to finish the manuscript and turn it in to the publisher. I had a lot of anxiety attacks that winter. 

Counting backwards from 100 by 7 is part of the Mini Mental Status Exam given to hospital patients.  

This poem was first published in No Tell Motel

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