Two poems by Leigh Stein


I am wearing my librarian costume.
Yes, I saved it from the fires.

In the future, when we say antiquity, we mean
state fairs and musicals. We mean affairs

of state, amusement. You left me a message
to say you were sad but you understood
which state I was coming from and I’m wondering

now which state you meant. West of us?
Or did you mean a state of mind?

I don’t have states of mind, I only have sweater sets.

I get dressed up and then I undress. I’d show you,
but this is a dispatch, I’m the dispatcher.

The calls come into my call center and
it’s my job to say, what’s the future

of your emergency?

Our new state flag is an aurochs,
not to celebrate extinction, but

to celebrate the wild part of us that died
in 1627. They moved her skull to Stockholm.

I wear my state flag like a dress.



“Because the keypuncher is in all likelihood unfamiliar with the material, the observer is required to make all entries as clear as possible and to follow the rules for entering data to the letter.”
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., Fisheries & Aquaculture department

What if my name is the answer to somebody’s security question.
What if my body is the question. The observer is invited
to mark his or her response with a pencil. In lieu
of pencils, he or she may use rope. In lieu of rope,
fish nets. Somewhere in this is a boat.

Playing basketball with ten-year-olds, I feel powerful.
The more help I need, the less likely I am to ask for it.
In some future, I would rather go down on a mountain
than radio for a helicopter rescue. I say this now.
I say this now from here on earth, afloat, at sea.

Whose boat is this? I left my body somewhere
back there to enjoy the arrival of the darkling
blue, but even at this distance, my reluctance
to go in above my waist is obvious. You’ll notice
I check the horizon for buccaneers, caravels, fins.

In all likelihood you are familiar with this material.
Helicopter rescues? Been there. Afloat? Done that.
In all likelihood you learned to swim. You spent
last summer by the seaside, skinny dipping
with associates until the jellyfish invasion.

Even if I follow these rules to the letter, I could end
up on the underside. Once I saw a movie
in which they brought a piano to an island
by boat. Later the piano was complicit in a suicide
attempt. It’s a percussive instrument. People forget.

I can tell you’re impressed by how I keep
my cool in all this. I remember learning
the word dissociate and using it indiscriminately.
I remember learning to swim: my grandmother
holding me and thinking don’t ever let go.

People forget that pleasure is the opposite
of requirement. Pleasure is choosing from a row
of bodies on a beach in yellow bandeau bikinis,
sunkissed, weightless, seen from a helicopter
they resemble fingers, pencils, picket fencing.

You sent me an envelope that had nothing
inside it. We walked through the drive-thru
and they said they wouldn’t serve us
so we got our boat and crashed it
into the menu like it was a harpoon.

We agreed to meet to reenact what happened
in the absence of the other. We realized
that as we were aging, less happened in real time,
it was more our memory of the sail, less salt
in the air, and the missing sodium seemed significant.

What if the answer to my security question is this
boat? What if your body is somewhere back there
leaving footprints in the sand for the rescue caravel,
and the observer is onboard with her pencil, waving
a kerchief intermittently, in all likelihood reluctant?

Then what.


Leigh Stein Leigh Stein

Leigh Stein is the author of the chapbooks How to Mend a Broken Heart with Vengeance (Dancing Girl Press) and Least Inhabited Island II (h-ngm-n Combatives). Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in DIAGRAM, h-ngm-n, Bat City Review, No Tell Motel, and Best of the Web 2010, among others. In Brooklyn, she curates the Poets & Puppets reading series, and teaches drama to children.

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