Readings — From the June 2016 issue

Monologue for Two Voices

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By Jana Prikryl, from her debut collection of poems, The After Party, which will be published this month by Tim Duggan Books.

There are few things in the world more beautiful
than a university, the president in 1963
continues saying to me now.
I was doing a bunch of different things
but that voice was irresistible.
The strangers slumped against me on the train
who sleep like horses, upright and out
to pasture, they are that
exhausted, would say the same.
A small nation loves its great men
jealously. The nation learns
to be a molecular scientist,
a lifestyle of always resuming
precisely where another left off
and adding on what you can spare of yours.
A water flowing through different lands,
abundant and continuous while observing
its banks and the farms on either side,
carrying certain men there and back
with time to compose accounts of how it was,
has not historically been my problem.
Where there’s less to own you have
to own it a lot more
than those who have more own theirs.
It’s understandable.
As a child I got the flu each time
a special day would beckon.
So childhood was one long influenza
and I made reparations to myself in the form
of a terrible sympathy with each new fact
that could be planted in the mind.
I’ve never again known such intimacy.
Except what I keep to myself when a man
taught at American University
writes my mother tongue more fluently than I can.
Don’t let me interrupt you
already in the door stating his business the person
from elsewhere is supposed
to mean disaster up until
disaster flavors the coolness of the room
and unfolds its own topography
of darker and lighter shades. It’s later
you see the little jerks
of youth, the little thrills, were ancient
signals pouring in like ocean waves
with their gratifying sound of applause,
washing over you from some primitive source,
while the first signs of age, which after
a few decades of youth arrive like carnivals
to vary a long holiday by the seaside,
these changes in their novelty will feel
like youth. For a while you welcome them
with interest and in a kind of innocence.
Will monotony ever again
resemble itself?
There must be a formula anyone could use
to tell how many more times I’ll need
to feel so unprepared.

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