Inaugural Poem for the New Regime
We’re all fine—
so long as we don’t really ask how we are.
We can shake hands and assume good of one another—
if I don’t hear where your vote went.
Skin color doesn’t rub off;
mine stays here and yours there, and it’s skin
on all the days of the week and the days in between—
Nothing crosses the borders of us but what we give away.
So long as I don’t know which car in the parking lot—
with the truck nuts,
flags washing history,
the go-back-home sticker—
belongs to which shopping cart in Sooper’s,
I could nod at shoppers, numbed. We could go on,
like this—We could. Like this. Unacknowledging dark horses.
Scraping against each other at the tendrils,
barely a cloud between our chests,
pleasantries looming stratospherelike,
in reach if we reach.
we could step out from the skirts of
La Liberté éclairant le monde, Mother of Exiles—
boat homeward across the Harbor in a bateau
too small for all of us—
Say, No, some of you will have to swim for it
if you can’t lend your privileged hand
to skin that isn’t yours,
pull a stranger in,
and ask him if he’s fine,
and listen when he
whispers, speaks, yells
I wake one morn to snow,
the next to sunny mids.
To the snowcaps, I wonder how they stay—
the people below fretting floods “like those
year back.” They’re still restoring drainage beds
in ye-old-mining country, where
corporate courts decide who can protest fracking,
not the Constitution. She’s a swell
in a field of wells—
a sleeping policeman, Mom would call it,
and the swells to the west are what remain
after we don’t.
Today I wake to the snow gone that landed yesterday,
delicate balance shook by sky and shock,
opened in acorn cracks, burst shells of mugworts
loosed from dust too old and ornery to hold,
too escapist to bury her roots in it.
Sagebrush once held us all in place.
Now we blow to the coasts and out
and out and out to the Atlantic and don’t
come back again.
and $25 for my wife
“[… W]hen we came back to Baltimore it was the
‘Sesqui’ Centennial, and the receipts of our first
week’s play were $7,300, of which I got $75 for
the use of the play, $80 for my acting, and $25 for
my wife [. …]”
—M. B. Curtis, as quoted in a
Sketch interview, July 10, 1895
Would have bought a leghorn straw or felt saucer,
a seal glove, a box in Sarah Bernhardt’s Camille,
would have bought a trip from Peralta Park
to anywhere with orange groves. How I begged
from a measly hand, such claws around pursestrings—
clutch what is yours, and I am fractioned:
part of the fare home, part of next week’s supper,
a potato in a stew, doled for a cigar.
I didn’t tell Father you married his daughter
to pad receipts; I didn’t tell Mother the pillbox
was borrowed, ring allowed, scarf allotted.
But I’ll tell you I earn every ha’penny for a third of pay
on hoof and tender arches, neuroses in sickcars,
a figure worn thin from heels and planks and
playing replacement props. That I should not decide
my own stocking color, to request the maid come twice,
three lumps of sugar, bellboys tipped without pause for asking,
is the precise fabric of the costume that binds the corset
that binds the body to the body of a man.
We hear Einstein speak in English
Quantum entanglement wasn’t
spooky action at a distance; it was
spukhafte Fernwirkung, but we hear him in our words,
hear principles drummed out
in syllables from Old World—
breaks the spell to learn these soup-for-the-soul lifequotes
are mere translations from new tongues,
that he might have said good where we might have heard great—
Legacy lost in translation cheapens the deal. What if
what we think is great is only good?
Can hear with our own attached ears and no other,
can never unknow what we know—
we from Pledge of Allegiance days still pulling for Pluto to be a planet
find what doesn’t translate is ignored,
swollen with disinterest and tossed like too-long leftovers.
When Brecht saw audiences react to Oedipus with acceptance
that their own fates were inevitable not humanmade,
his response was not distancing effect, making-strange.
It was Verfremdungseffekt, the need to maintain critical distance
from the play and its characters, or
Sie müssen eine kritische Distanz zu den Charakteren beibehalten
und haben keine Gefühle—
anticatharsis that could carry to real life.
We can’t feel everything; at some point,
approach from the outside necessitates.
Global language is birdsongs, laughter,
raised brows or smiles or shrugs, the rhythm of melody—
but persists that need to keep what I hear
at a critical distance from its truth; the
language of minds is not the only voice there is.
Worlds speak beyond grunts and birdsongs.
Science exists independent of my will to hear it;
it is I who must learn it, and not the other way around.
LEAH ANGSTMAN is a historian and transplanted Midwesterner, unsure of what feels like home anymore. She is the recent winner of the Loudoun Library Foundation Poetry Award and Nantucket Directory Poetry Award and was a placed finalist in the Bevel Summers Prize for Short Fiction (Washington & Lee University), Pen 2 Paper Writing Competition (in both Poetry and Fiction categories), Saluda River Prize for Poetry, and Blue Bonnet Review Poetry Contest. She has earned three Pushcart Prize nominations and serves as Editor-in-Chief for Alternating Current Press and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Her writing has appeared in numerous journals, including Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, Tupelo Quarterly, Electric Literature, Midwestern Gothic, Atticus Review, Slice Magazine, and Shenandoah. She can be found at leahangstman.com.