Leigh Stein is a playwright, director, and editor of a collection of one
sentence love stories with an extremely long title. Her writing has
appeared in Barrow Street, 42opus, Diagram, horse less review, Small
Spiral Notebook, and Can We Have Our Ball Back? She lives in Chicago.
Ghazal For The Boys Who Promised To Teach Me To Fight
At night the lake is black and in the city east is no direction. To spite our lack
Of geography, we clutch hands and hit our heads on rocks on the way down.
You were never soft; you were candid and simple and specific with your fists.
When that small girl hit and missed you said, Next time put up your arms.
The rules of departure are threaded with volition, not disquiet fears:
Banisters, aquariums, nothing in the Dakotas is taller than two stories.
I have lost my accent, I have missed the lilacs, I do not call him when I'm home.
I have seen dead pigeons in the street but here there are larger bodies in the road.
The persistence of freight trains is silence enough. The long toothed grass,
The darkness, the weight of calloused hands. Either stop or lie still like this.
The Safest Way Home
Excellent customer service means never crying
in front of the customer, asking him to call or
send orchids. In a photograph taken during the time
when you knew all the constellations, you look
like you knew it would end up like this -- stars
are something to talk about at night on a beach.
When one tells you he's from Nepal you say
you love Nepal. You love Flint, Michigan, you
love that there are roads and wrists and reasons
for the planets and no matter what he ties you to,
if afterwards you run into him on the bus, because maybe
you live in the same neighborhood, you will hold
your suitcase handle because first of all, you
could be any of five names and second of all,
your accordion is in the suitcase and you have a ticket
to Valencia. Tomorrow you will be where the cliffs jut
from the sea. You've been practicing. If he sits
beside you and says, Bangladesh, don't show
that you remember, get off before your stop, before
he says he has a fencepost, a red parachute, an open field.
And you want to know what has been done with your organs.
They understand. You'll be glad to know they're in a better place.
Then the camera zooms out until you're just a woman on an orange
chair. As if to suggest, you could be any woman: you are each of them.
When the lights are on you can't see the faces of those watching.
Think of all the room you have now, all the room for other bodies.
Birds, even. Wouldn't you like a bird? Don't throw your life away,
they say. You have so much to live with. If not a bird, a husband
then. Someone to talk over that bone crushing sound. Cut to
the car that brought you here. All we can see is the back
of the driver's head and the line of road through the windshield
beneath the swiftly crowning clouds. The highway is lined
with felled threshing machines; the road is slick with blood.
When he asks if you want the radio on, you know he means
something worse. You see the deer before he does and say
nothing. Cut to the waiting room again to imply you survived.
Cut to the car, hitting the deer. The car, erupting in flames.
The car, rolling over six times. The orange chair. Your placid
expression. Was it a flammable deer. Was it a trap. You wish
you knew. At the side of the road you lay down with the stag.
In the orange chair you touch your chest. I can't believe
you're touching it, the driver says. There is pathos. There is
a sudden eclipse of the sun. You stare at the ferocious darkness
as the blindness approaches. Did you say something, the driver says.
I can't hear you above these blue plumes of flame. You say I've gone
blind. He says, Say it again. You say, I am blind and it is my birthday.
He looks at his palm where he wrote it down. Your birthday is tomorrow,
he says, but if you're really blind we have to go. Cut to the long walk
to the room where the orange chair is. They'll take you in and open you
up and sew you shut and tell you you're not blind and you've never been.
In the orange chair you touch your navel. The whole world sounds like
a vaccuum cleaner. The camera zooms in on your hands folding
magazine pages into paper cranes. In the orange chair you open
your mouth and swallow birds until you hear the sound of them.
Choose Your Own Canadian Wilderness
My favorite book is the one with the woman
who wears a balaclava every time she goes
under the viaduct because it's Canada, and
because she's married to a man who loves
her sister, and because if her family found her
under the viaduct, she would lose everything,
more than that, she would lose the end of the story
he began. Il etait une fois, he says, there are rugs
made by children who go blind and turn
to crime, and/or rescuing sacrificial virgins
from the palace the night before the sacrifice.
Turn one page if you want to be the woman,
listening to the story, but you'll have to
keep that hat on. Turn three if you'd rather
be a girl alone in a bed, waiting; I was
always that girl: you're alone and
they've already cut out your tongue
and in the morning they'll take you
to the top of a high hill, so what is there
to do but follow the blind boy, watch
as he puts the body of the strangled guard
in your bed, in your place, follow as he leads
you through the air ventilation system and over
the palace walls? I never chose any other way,
because what could the woman do but love him
and listen to a story that wasn't about her.
After you get over the walls, then you run
through the darkness, the darkness that isn't
darkness to the blind boy because of his blindness,
the silent darkness to you who can't describe it,
you run until you turn the page, but then instead
of safety, a valley, the woman under the viaduct
puts her skirt on and goes back home and you think
you've ended up in the wrong story, but months later
she gets a phone call saying the man was killed
in the Spanish Civil War and that's the end
because the only person who knows
what happened to you is dead.
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