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3 poems by Leigh Stein

The Reckoning

Am I the only one in this who hopes it gets worse?
For us at least, the adolescents, the ones
who will still be here in fifty years, possibly
jobless, but possibly not. I say worse
because maybe then my friends and I
can buy a farm, or an island with an abandoned asylum,
if we pool all the money we've saved from working
the jobs we never told our parents about. Not knowing
what else to do, the history books will say,
some young people moved to the country, bought
livestock they made the mistake of naming, spent
their days taking turns in the hammock,
and grew illegal drugs until they ran out of food.
For the first time in history, an entire generation
was completely unprepared for absolutely anything.
But oh how the stars will show themselves
to be such miracles that we will comment nightly
upon their arrival, reciting the constellations
we learned in a tent set in our elementary school
gymnasium, back when we were still impressed
with parachute games. Andromeda, Aquarius,
Aries, Orion. In the darkness, one of us will
clandestinely reach for another. Someone
will disrupt the silence to remark on its totality,
and in the morning we'll find that he's left
with his rucksack and two jars of peanut butter
in search of the noise of yesterday. We'll lose more
this way, to nostalgia, than famine or disillusionment.
There won't be anything left to be disillusioned about.
During our first winter, we will come to understand
why our ancestors knew so many ways to eat an apple.
In spring, whoever owns the tandem bicycle
will hold monopoly over our amusement. Historians
will see that in the aftermath of the crash
the birth rate dropped, we used currency for decoupage,
and had to learn to play acoustic instruments by candlelight;
that all the childless women went out and renamed the land—
Oak Tree Stands Alone, Kristen Loses Her Wedding Ring,
Christmas Tree Farm Gone Wild, Pedestrian Turnpike,
The Night the Trouble Started, Two Hills Give Us Pause—
because we couldn't name our children, because we wanted
to be remembered as cartographers of the new earth.


 

Canary

i

Today on the Q train: no lights in our car.
I felt like a miner. Past Prospect Park,

the graffiti bloomed and shone like safety
lamps through windows and onto

prayer books, the Hasids' canaries.
Do you know if their wives wear wigs

and nude stockings to protect
what's under there or just

to make us wonder what's under there
I wonder? I have often thought of enlisting,

but I don't have blue eyes and I can't read
right to left. If this happens again, I thought,

if the lights go out in the world, I'll ask
someone. I'll say how do you pray if it's too dark

to read? I want to know if God knows
what we're up against.

ii

I know we aren't talking anymore, but
that doesn't prevent things from happening

to me that I want to tell you about.
Today I rode the elevator.

I didn't get a raise. At my desk,
the thought of ending it all

gave me the strength to finish
that expense report, but

then I decided to keep living.
My bulletin board is covered in pictures

of the places we never went together:
Taos, Laos, Djibouti, Pennsylvania.

We never went anywhere together.
You always had that girlfriend.

And even before her, there was
my disability. Which, for the record,

I lied about, but it seemed like a good idea
at the time. Have a nice honeymoon, Jack.

I hope Sophie doesn't get food poisoning.
I hope you live for many many years,

until after I finally get out of here, so you can get
the call from my lawyer, asking to meet so he can

let you into my apartment. I'm leaving you

my letters. The record of our lives without each other.

 

 

Undergraduate Creative Workshop Fairy Tale

I need more consistent mirrors in my life,
the woman thought to herself, the story begins.

I like how you opened with mirrors, someone says.
I like how you opened with consistency.

When the woman lived in Los Angeles,
dirty bad things happened to her neighbors.

Then the woman moved to New York, and
made dirty bad things happen to the characters

in her short stories about people who live
in Los Angeles. I need more consistent mirrors

in my life, the woman thought, and so she
made a house out of mirrors inside a circus tent

near the dirty bad ocean. Dirty bad people
everywhere read her short stories and felt

whole again, recognized, justified
in their lifestyles. This was her fantasy.

All day long, the woman worked
in a cubicle she had decorated with faux

morning glory vines and paper
snowflakes and Easter eggs

and pictures of her friends' babies
and thought about the stories

she would write when she got home,
but when she got home she just slept,

and when she slept, she died,
and was born again in Los Angeles.

I like the part where the character
goes to Heaven except it's not Heaven,

it's Los Angeles, and God is the ocean.
I disagree, someone says, I don't think

that's believable. For Valentine's Day,
the woman sets two of her characters up

on a successful first date. The woman
in the woman's story has cervical cancer,

but she doesn't know that yet, she gets to live,
just this once, in sweet oblivion, sweet

chocolate-covered strawberry Heaven, close

to God, and the man she will love for three pages.

 

Read an interview with Leigh Stein

Return to Issue 29