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Charlotte Pence 



We didn't understand what we were holding,
but knew both penis and vagina on the piglet
meant something. We answered its squeals
with clucks and shush. Took note of its moonish, 
hard belly. Sang "Twinkle, Twinkle" to distract 
from the ear tag's needle and punch. My body 
was not the body the piglet longed for: 
no mother's teat, swollen and flabby, spritzing 
milk; no fur slicked with manured hay to wallow 
and warm. But song is song. Sailors, chain gangs, 
boys with Corvettes and girls with Hondas-
we need song. I broke a flute once to get inside 
the soft pads of each key. Found only metal and holes 
and cold. That's the way with searching, isn't it? 
We think we know before we know. In this world, 
even babies hear their names before they're born.

Argument (1)

Wind bending a grove 
Of bamboo. Thin-trunked.
Sound of an opening door.
I think of my father.

How through him-
          His Oreo-fat,
          His hardening cock,
          His long, curled lashes

I stutter-stepped into myself. 
A woman 
          In wonder.

Why do you write that stuff? my father interrupts.


What do you mean? About your cock?


No. That right there, he says, lifting his arms, glass of O.J. in one hand,
Little Debbie oatmeal cream pie in the other. He stands like a Lady of
the Scales statue-chewing a wad of snack cake. 

What are you talking about? What's in my poems? How I see the world?


All of this, he says and circles his drink in the air. This house. Our family.
You and me. You think it's everything. He nods toward the window. But
what's out there doesn't even begin it.


I answer: Yesterday I saw something I've never seen before: A canary-yellow
web that only one spider in the world can weave. What do you think about that?


He shrugs. Charlotte, that's yesterday.


Essay On Collective Paranoia

                Metaphors, like epitaphs, must be fitting. -Aristotle 

I. The Incident: A New Method for Death and Metaphor 1

Waiter carries a tray across the hotel 
lobby to three men clustered in fat arm chairs. 
Litvinenko 2 dunks in his tea bag. Brown-red 
hovers then spreads like blood from a cut. L. sips, 
nods Yes, yes, to men


he calls comrades. Someone has laced the water 
or cup with Isotrope Polonium 210. 
"The want of harmony between two things 
is emphasized by their being placed side by side."
This is rhetoric,


according to Aristotle, and relates 
to love, maybe marriage, and assassination. 
Poison only effective if presented 
harmoniously: old friends; damp, chilly day;
suggestion of tea.


Later, L. walks himself through the ER doors.
Doctors do not understand his sickness, so 
the hospital charts resort to metaphor: 
"His face is the color of the room's white wall;" 
"Stomach a ping-pong ball


hit by a missile." 3 Metaphor is the mind 
catching itself in a mistake, meaning we
learn the new through the known. We know hits, but not
like this hit. We know death but not like this death. 
Metaphor-a bridge.


Tests come back clean. Still, L. insists: They are 
killing me. Doctors think: Metaphor; the pains
and exams are difficult. Then, he is dead.
We loathe passive construction, demand subjects, 
clear relationships. 

So, next come questions: Whom did he meet? Unknown. 
Tea? Darjeeling. Maybe they killed him when he said, 
Please pardon me and left unaccompanied
his cup. L. had always feared walking 
through crowded lobbies


under those recessed and shadowed ceilings. Air 
cooler at his face than feet. Death and duty 
merging in that air, the two terms indicating 
"what is fair or what is foul." 4 In the end,
his fears accurate.


II. The Cause and Effect: Paranoia


Let us return to the lobby where L. sipped 
his last tea, watched guests rush through revolving doors. 
He suspected these moments of people coming 
and going were significant. Lobby a place 
to execute plans,


remake the self. Briefcases with proposals,
purses with passports, valises with garters.
Lobby carpet also loaded with design: 
burgundy stars inside navy squares over
toast-yellow diamonds.


It is necessary, psychiatrists say, 
to function by responding to fragments: "bits
of conversation, beginnings of actions...." 5 
We live on pieces. And attempt to piece all 
into place. Someone


should be snapping photos while hiding behind 
an indoor palm, eating a slice of folded 
pizza. We know the wrongs we've done, the meanness 
we've thought. Who knows what others might do? This is 
not paranoia.


P. 6 is akin to feeling loved. An attempt 
at completeness. 7 Intimate friend, we tell P. 
all fears. Who slighted us. How we deserved it. 
And P. responds with: Yes, worry! Yes, you're doomed;


Then, we feel understood.


III. Conclusion: Security Is All False


Concern for L. is not why we detail his death. 
It's self-survival. P. can't protect if P. 
can't imagine the threat. 8 The world churns and purrs 
by forecasting our demise and devising 
grand pre-emptive strikes.


All loss can be avoided: right liquid ounce, 
right sexual mount, right hedge shape, right help mate,
right gruel, right bio-fuel, right SPF,
right laws against meth, right sugar substitute, 
right Buddhist attitude,


and right polonium antidote will save us. 
Reports assure that L.'s poisoning is not 
possible for mass killings. But look here, P. 
whispers, tapping a story on page D7,
U.S.A. Today.


Men in hazmat suits carrying twelve-liter 
oxygen tanks, radiation meters, screw 
drills, deem a doorknob lethal, the door itself 
a threat, and two hotel rooms unsafe for use. 
They must remove bits


of the rooms, too: outlet plaques, curtain hooks,
the Gideon. Would have been covert except 
for a snitch. Who took that picture of our charons 
carrying a door through the lobby? A door walking 
sideways through a door.


1.From the Greek. Meta is a prefix signifying change, be that of place, order, condition, or nature. Phor is the verb for carrying. Metaphor literally means to carry change, from one object to another.
2.Alexander Litvinenko served in the Soviet KGB and publicly accused his superiors of assassinating Boris Berezovksy and bombing apartments to blame on terrorists. On November 1st, 2006, he walked into a London hospital and shortly died thereafter from radioactive polonium-210 poisoning, the first death of this kind. In this poem, he is referred to as "L."
3.Direct quotes from the doctor's charts as reported by James Geary in "The First Assassination of the Twenty-first Century."
4. More of Rhetoric by Aristotle: "Both terms will indicate what is fair, or what is foul, but not simply their fairness or foulness." Shakespeare later used this line.
5. Quoted from Daniel Freeman and Phillipa A. Garety's The Psychology of Persecutory Delusions.
6. "P." stands for paranoia.
7. The idea from Plato that we were once joined as one, then split into two. And love is a process of seeking that other to complete oneself. Trying to complete fragments, however, can also lead to wrong conclusions. Hence divorce, paranoia, and/or both.
8. A.k.a. the "clinical relevance of persecutory delusions" according to Freeman and Garety. 


-from Many Small Fires

BIO: Charlotte Pence’s debut collection of poems, Many Small Fires, was released in February by Black Lawrence Press. In a recent review, Erica Wright explains that “this astonishing book takes a hard look at how mental illness affects those who love—or are expected to love—the patient.” A professor of English and Creative Writing at Eastern Illinois University, Charlotte is married to the fiction writer Adam Prince and is the former owner of two chickens, Soda Pop and Plan B.

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