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Three nightmares and two scenes from life



1.  Theater of cruelty



High in the lifeguard chair the director grows precariously tall,

shouting through his megaphone—


it’s you. We’re playing Hamlet in an Olympic swimming pool

without an audience.


Mattresses float, roped together in the foreground

(someone pretends to sleep)


an alarm clock hammers into bells; the narrator springs forward

like a sprung trap—it’s me,


on one of the mattress rafts, ready to set the scene

for tragedy, my parts


in this one even rhyme (someone floating face-down

in the background)


and you above us resetting the clock over and over

because you can.





2.  That one summer



we stayed up late talking stars, you and me

and the astronomer


those nights you slept in the living room

She was young


everything impressed her equally

(especially you)


she didn’t know that you were laughing at her

Midwestern ideas


My room was inside your room so you said

isn’t it time


for you to go to bed?  I thought past time

put some music on and


couldn’t tell if the walls of my room

were shrinking


towards me or filling with water or filling

with dirt





3.  The typewriter



After sex (terrible even in dreams) I went looking for your typewriter

in the closet


which was long like the old cloakrooms in elementary school

30 hooks lined up


at reach-for level on the wall and kids lined up (either alphabetically or

according to height)


to be counted before lunch. When my mother went to college

freshmen girls still lined up


naked and posed for posture-checking photographs during orientation

like Tereza’s nightmare.


Your dorm room was an open field (with a mattress on the floor somewhere)

and in the closet


there weren’t so many hooks but there were boxes to look inside of

and two typewriters.


Half naked, stooped over, searching, I found the broken

one first, had to find


the good one before you got out of the shower. I said you smell good. 

You caught me—balanced


something heavy on my back. I turned, it fell and you were yelling

how could you be so stupid


to think I wanted you and other words, too,

but everything was these words.





4.  Hotel



We had to share our room with thirty other women

you’d been sleeping with


not a room, really, but a kind of suite crammed full

with rundown furniture


The women wandering half-dressed between the beds

and rooms were difficult


to count and their faces could change like television channels

change constantly


filling the room with a strange unsteady glow and laughter, too

hidden in every corner





5.  The joke



At least once you came to me at night

in the body


of someone I loved more recently

or not yet,


but I wasn’t fooled, wasn’t surprised.

Your changes


don’t surprise me. In your room

you nailed up


one blank white mask that shook

its head no


when the fan was on.

Elizabeth Gross