[Poetry] Four Sonnets, By Jana Prikryl | Harper's Magazine

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[Poetry]

Four Sonnets

Adjust
each letter
Everyone crowded in that movie theater
you found a seat to my left some thirty years later
saying little, facing the screen while I use my hair
to screen the sudden velocity of time
then you stood behind my row in that gray sweater and said
don’t be hurt if I have nothing to say, I have trouble
connecting with people these days, and left only after
we folded many times giant sheets of paper
we both had filled with alphabets
as though we would draw an animal for each letter next
and give them away to children, not what you used
to trace with a finger, slow words on my back or thigh or hand
and I on yours, a correspondence absent light or sound
especially useful around others, in a car, at the dinner table

 
 
 

paper moon
A question of whether I’d stick with the plan
of suffocating my invalid wife, conceived
meticulously my friend with the shapeless trunk
and me (I was a man), I’d hold the paper mask
over mouth and nose under a poster how-to,
but at the last moment if this were a movie
I knew I’d cover my eyes through the poisoning
so brutal, now we’d have to live with her
and when I was female it was a disaster
I could not remember the words to the song
that suited my voice, It’s Only a Paper Moon
I’d sing to the dentists’ group, my favorite lipstick
all watery, like applying plasma, many
times I rewrote it in the dressing room

 
 
 
 

alma mater
The young man grown tall and loose in every way
his clothes a drapery, reddish curling hair
a sort of cushion all around his head, providence,
was standing with a friend on campus as I pass
they’re telling who accepted them for masters
intruding then I walk him there, my alma mater, scuffing
gravel on the shoulder gradually he turns female
describing in detail her plan to get pregnant
I line up my stories, not having a child
the worst thing that nearly happened to me
and it happened for years, I couldn’t see the moon
in the sky without shooting dirty looks but once arrived
the boy the most arduous exacting work
I couldn’t have done it alone, no please, don’t try

 
 
 
 

other friends
We roamed in air, was it a chopper or a plane,
high above the green plate of water and long tube
of waterfall, far below as a map, real as the Salzkammergut
we had the day and four enormous geese
followed into our room where my young son turned one
into a man, he held
the vicious other three and would not let them bite.
We roamed in air and scanned the water far below,
the distance itself a holiday as was his sympathy for
my fear of heights, it isn’t cheating if he keeps telling me
about his wife and I enjoy the tales. The thought
of other friends as we roamed there whose marriages
were wrecked came in, were sent away, was not
a man I’d longed for or even considered much

 is the author of The After Party and No Matter. She is the executive editor of The New York Review of Books.



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