Enemies, by Dante Micheaux

        [for Ishion Hutchinson]

The thing about entertaining them,
about keeping their company,
about fraternizing,
is you must remember
they are bloodless
and have many faces,
though it’s easy enough
to walk in sunlight,
where either you or they
become invisible,
never together seen;
easy to get in bed with them,
to bed them,
to be seduced by them—
listing in their own dominance.
Remember what makes one human,
animal, is not the high road
but the baseness in the heart,
the knowledge that they could,
at any moment, betray you.

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Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds, by Eleanor Lerman

This is what she says about Russia, in the year 2000, in
a restaurant on Prince Street, late on a summer night
She says: all the chandeliers were broken and in the winter,
you couldn’t get a drink, not even that piss from Finland.
The whole country was going crazy. She thinks she is speaking
about the days before she left, but I think, actually, that she is
recounting history. Somebody should be writing all this down

Or not. Perhaps the transition from Communism to a post-Soviet
federation as seen through the eyes of a woman who was hoping,
at least, for an influx of French cosmetics is of interest only to me.
And why not? It seems that the fall of a great empire—revolution!
murder! famine! martial music!—has had a personal effect.
Picture an old movie: here is the spinning globe, the dotted line
moving, dash by dash, from Moscow across the ocean to
New York and it’s headed straight for me. Another blonde
with an accent: the city’s full of them. Nostrovya! A toast
to how often I don’t know what’s coming at me next.

So here is a list of what she left behind: a husband, an abortion,
a mathematical education, and a black market career in
trading currencies. And what she brought: a gray poodle,
eight dresses and a fearful combination of hope, sarcasm,
and steel-eyed desire to which I have surrendered. And now
I know her secrets: she will never give up smoking.
She would have crawled across Eastern Europe and fed
that dog her own blood if she had to. And her mother’s secrets:
she would have thought, at last, that you were safe with me.
She hated men. Let me, then, acknowledge that last generation
of the women of the enemy: they are a mystery to me.
They would be a mystery even to my most liberal-minded friends.

That’s not to say that the daughter, this new democrat, can’t be
a handful. And sometimes noisy: One of those girls you see
now (ice blue manicure, real diamonds and lots of DKNY)
leans over from the next table and says, Can’t you ask your wife
to hold it down? My wife? I suppose I should be insulted,
but I think it’s funny. This is a dangerous woman they want
to quiet here. A woman who could sew gold into the ragged lining
of anybody’s coffin. Who knows that money does buy freedom.
Who just this morning has obtained a cell phone with a bonus plan.
She has it with her, and I believe she means to use it.
Soon, she will be calling everyone, just to wake them up.

Vocabulary, by Jason Schneiderman

I used to love words,
but not looking them up.

Now I love both,
the knowing,

and the looking up,
the absurdity

of discovering that “boreal”
has been meaning

“northern” all this time
or that “estrus”

is a much better word
for the times when

I would most likely
have said, “in heat.”

When I was translating,
the dictionary

was my enemy,
the repository of knowledge

that I seemed incapable
of retaining. The foreign word

for “inflatable” simply
would not stay in my head,

though the English word “deictic,”
after just one encounter,

has stuck with me for a year.
I once lost “desiccated”

for a decade, first encountered
in an unkind portrayal

of Ronald Reagan, and then
finally returned to me

in an article about cheese.
I fell in love with my husband,

not when he told me
what the word “apercus” means,

but when I looked it up,
and he was right.

There’s even a word
for when you use a word

not to mean its meaning,
but as a word itself,

and I’d tell you what it was
if I could remember it.

My friend reads the dictionary
for its perspective on culture,

laughs when I say that
reference books are not really

books, but proleptic databases.
My third grade teacher

used to joke that if we were bored
we could copy pages out of the dictionary,

but when I did, also as a joke,
she was horrified rather than amused.

Discovery is always tinged
with sorrow, the knowledge

that you have been living
without something,

so we try to make learning
the province of the young,

who have less time to regret
having lived in ignorance.

My students are lost
in dictionaries,

unable to figure out why
“categorize” means

“to put into categories”
or why the fifth definition

of “standard” is the one
that will make the sentence

in question make sense.
I wonder how anyone

can live without knowing
the word “wonder.”

A famous author
once said in an interview,

that he ended his novel
with an obscure word

he was sure his reader
would not know

because he liked the idea
of the reader looking it up.

He wanted the reader,
upon closing his book, to open

another, that second book
being a dictionary,

and however much I may have loved
that author, after reading

that story
(and this may surprise you)

I loved him less.

I’m Over the Moon, by Brenda Shaughnessy

I don’t like what the moon is supposed to do.
Confuse me, ovulate me,

spoon-feed me longing. A kind of ancient
date-rape drug. So I’ll howl at you, moon,

I’m angry. I’ll take back the night. Using me to
swoon at your questionable light,

you had me chasing you,
the world’s worst lover, over and over

hoping for a mirror, a whisper, insight.
But you disappear for nights on end

with all my erotic mysteries
and my entire unconscious mind.

How long do I try to get water from a stone?
It’s like having a bad boyfriend in a good band.

Better off alone. I’m going to write hard
and fast into you moon, face-fucking.

Something you wouldn’t understand.
You with no swampy sexual

promise but what we glue onto you.
That’s not real. You have no begging

cunt. No panties ripped off and the crotch
sucked. No lacerating spasms

sending electrical sparks through the toes.
Stars have those.

What do you have? You’re a tool, moon.
Now, noon. There’s a hero.

The obvious sun, no bulls hit, the enemy
of poets and lovers, sleepers and creatures.

But my lovers have never been able to read
my mind. I’ve had to learn to be direct.

It’s hard to learn that, hard to do.
The sun is worth ten of you.

You don’t hold a candle
to that complexity, that solid craze.

Like an animal carcass on the road at night,
picked at by crows,

haunting walkers and drivers. Your face
regularly sliced up by the moving

frames of car windows. Your light is drawn,
quartered, your dreams are stolen.

You change shape and turn away,
letting night solve all night’s problems alone.