Leigh Stein


There are better ways to break a heart than Facebook,
such as abandoning your pregnant girlfriend at Walmart
like that guy did to Natalie Portman. If you read this book
sequentially, bad things may happen to you, but only as bad
as the things that would have happened to you anyway.
If, however, you do not read this book sequentially you may
find that you are suddenly aboard a sunken pirate ship,
staring into the deep abyss, and wishing you had chosen
not to chase the manatee in your submarine after all. Do not
panic. If you end up in the wrong adventure just go back
three spaces and draw another card. Or go back to bed.
Or read up on the side effects of the medication taken
by your loved ones. The great R. A. Montgomery once wrote,
"Suddenly you're surrounded by eleven Nodoors," and I
guess what I'm trying to do here is ruin any hope
you may have had of coming out of this alive.



By definition of vicious infinite regression
I don't like to talk to philosophy majors.
They have found the truth and the truth is

that there isn't one, so on Saturdays they
wear overalls and stare at their reflections
and try to guess whose childhood was worse,

but in the end they realize they all share
the same dream of having a reason
to join the Witness Protection Program,

which disappoints at least one person, who
thought his dream was so uniquely his.
Last night I got a fortune cookie that said

I don't get along with basically anyone,
and from the back I learned the Chinese word
for grape: putao, and it made me wonder how each

informs the other. To find out, turn to page 117.
I wonder how much longer I can live here
before I do something irresponsible like

meet a teenage boy on a Ferris wheel in 1941
or lay in the street and watch the stoplights
change from green to yellow or sit on a porch

swing at dusk and listen to Leaves of Grass
read by someone who has just worked all day
with his hands. Already on page 56 I love you

so much I just want to steal your clothes
when you're asleep and wash them. I want
us to communicate telepathically until I am old

and suffering from dementia and can't even
remember I know how to play piano until
a nurse tells me I do and still I'll deny it

until she puts my hands on the keys and then
there'll be Chopin so quickly, as the light
spills in the leaded windows and the lilies

lean in closer. By definition of vicious
infinite regression I am in front of a mirror
holding a copy of the movie based on the book

you wrote based on the parts of our life
together that I no longer remember and
looking back at me is a woman holding

a movie based on a book based on her life
and she wonders if the woman she sees
wants to die as much as she does. I keep

staring at this bruise on my leg and drawing
a blank. Last night when you called I told you
I was happy, which was true, but thinking ahead

I could be unhappy, too, if that's what you
wanted. I could be any of a lot of things:
a wrist, a ghost, a harbor, a rope. I could

be the one who doesn't know the language.
I could be the reason they take you first.
I could be the last person to see you alive.



We stretched a ladder between our second-story
windows and tried to get the dog to go
across to see if it would hold but it didn't.

My ambivalence must have made the dog fall, I
called across to him. He picked up his tin can
and said, I can't hear you unless you speak

into the tin cans, remember? What did you just
say? Sono spiacente, I said. Nevermind. Slicha.
You are probably wondering now if the dog's okay,

but do you think you could stay with me, anyway,
even if I never gave you the answer? This was
so long ago, farther back than yesterday,

when you and I spoke for the last time. You said,
Why did you leave so early? And I said I couldn't
sleep and you asked me why I didn't tell you

at the time; you would have hit me on the head
with something hard. Let me ask you, could you
imagine a cloudless sky above a Nebraska plain?

Could you draw it? Could you imagine yellow birds?
Could you visualize the soft sound a door
makes when it closes and sticks and I thought I

had problems, but seriously, look at yourself.
Look. I had this incredible dream last night
and I'm not even going to tell you about it.

In Russia, the young girls who die violent deaths
either end up like birds in Pushkin or like fish
at the bottom of lakes, where they comb each other's

hair all night long, where they teach each other
the lyrics to every Talking Heads song
so they can lure sailors into their shadowy grottoes

and drown them. They say there once was a rusalka
who wished to be human so badly she gave up
her voice to be with her beloved and of course

he loved her because who wouldn't love a girl
who can't talk back, but then one night
at a masked ball he got distracted by a foreign princess

with an elegant neck and the rusalka was so despondent
she went to a witch and somehow communicated, I've
never been so unhappy in my whole life. What should I do?

And of course the witch told her to stab him with a dagger,
and of course the rusalka considered it. Like, seriously?
Seriously stab him with a dagger? But ultimately she

decided she would rather lose her human life and
go back to being an underwater death demon.
At least in the opera version the prince realizes

his terrible mistake and goes hunting for a doe
only to find the rusalka in her last moments and
kisses her knowing it means death and eternal

damnation. Here I am now, watching the moonlight
dance across the water in the retention pond, staring
at this scalpel and trying to forget your address.




These poems were informed by the film adaptations of Where the Heart Is and The Notebook, Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor, R. A. Montgomery's Return to Atlantis, and the Wikipedia entry on Rusalki. I listened to "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads and the acoustic "Hey Ya" cover by Obadiah Parker while writing them. If you are heartbroken the best thing to do is write poems and email them to the person who broke your heart because maybe he will break up with his new girlfriend and move across the country with you, which is what actually happened with these.