Every time I check the mail, I see the name of a martyr that France has wept since most of us stood united in early 2015 behind a sentence that started with “Je suis.” His name in proper spelling, with its final T, printed on a white rectangular label made by the co-op some decades ago. Before his name is his widow’s (more commonly referred to as the upstairs neighbor), the two names hyphenated together. I moved into the building less than a month before the attack, had never met him or her. I wasn’t even aware that they had been living for years in what has now become my building. It took me some time to understand why all these people were appearing in the staircase with a look I had never seen before on anyone’s face. I remember being surprised by what they were bringing her—care packages of necessities, including multiple copies of the daily, weekly, and monthly papers.
Time has passed by but we still occasionally meet in the staircase. She once asked me if I knew who she was. I don’t remember what I answered. We talk for a while or maybe a little every time we meet. She doesn’t know how to pronounce my name. I have never bothered to correct her. The other neighbors mispronounce it as well, yet in a different way.
The first time she cried in front of me I didn’t know what to do. Truth is, I don’t remember meeting her on the stairs without seeing her cry. When we meet on the street or uninterestingly enough at the hair salon, she manages to hold it together. But within the confinement of our building, there’s no way for her to hold her tears inside. She will be standing there with groceries, hesitating to climb the stairs to her floor or to stay in between floors with me discussing how life is going these days. It’s easy to see that she has been happy in her life. Her happiness has not worn off year after year. You can still see traces of it on her classically featured, sweet face. It is as if her muscles still remember what it is like to stand still with no negative thoughts. Once she told me she was sure I was raised in a house that read his newspaper. I lied. Truth is, we never bought it. We didn’t like the way the drawings looked.
One night after going to the movies, I picked up the mail from my mailbox. Number nine. I did so in a way that was almost burdensome. The mailboxes are further down in the courtyard, after the door of the part of the building I live in. It always feels unnatural for some reason to go all the way to those mailboxes. As I robotically crossed the courtyard back to my building and typed the code to the front door, I stumbled upon an envelope with a name different than mine. There it is, I thought. There he is. Black letters on white paper. His full name—not the one used when they mention him on TV. The power of reading his actual civilian name. His first name I had heard no one use but her. It was a rather thin envelope, those long shaped ones. There was probably just one page of A4 horizontally folded in three inside. Short of breath and with my eyes focused on those few letters, I turned around to put it in the correct mailbox. Hers. Number eight. I did so in a weird rush, my heart pounding as if I had just run to catch the bus, but with an additional hint of embarrassment. It was as if I had stolen something in order to find out a secret that was not mine to discover. When I got to my apartment seconds later, it took me a minute to calm down. I remember not taking my coat off right away as if I had something else to do, or would maybe need to go out again. Eventually, I got over myself and went to bed. I wondered afterwards why I hadn’t given it to her directly. I very well could have slid it under her door. His mail.
Haydée Touitou is a writer from Paris, France working mainly in English. Haydée has been published in different independent publications including Apartamento magazine for which she is today one of the contributing editors. Her non-fiction writing has also been presented in Double magazine or Kennedy magazine among others. She works as an editorial consultant for brands and agencies, with a range of missions going from producing editorial content for both internal and external communication, as well as overseeing the making, editing, and publishing of books. In 2017, Haydée co-founded The Skirt Chronicles, a collaborative publication that aims at reflecting a feminine voice without excluding anyone from the conversation. Haydée is currently working on her first book, a collection of four short stories entitled Name in Full as well as other projects including a book in translation and a children’s book.
Please Hold Your Answers
“…the answer to the future will be in knowing how
to ask the right questions.” –Quentin Hardy
Answers are finished, washed up.
Once the noble deep-sea creatures
who fought until you reeled them in,
now they flop like beached alewives
expiring in the sand and seaweed.
You—did you spend your capital chasing
schools of teasing, thrashing answers,
filling your nets and holds, steaming forth,
unaware that the spoils go to those
with questions, not answers; to those
who ask, Are we asking the right questions?
and other such admired interrogatives?
We stay afloat on whys, a gratuitous
“excellent question!” like a safety vest;
and as for you, weighing us down
with answers, answer, answers,
overboard you go in your cement-shoes!
A corporate suit hooks jacket over shoulder,
marches to a window, turns theatrically
and asks, What message are we sending?
in such a way that boardroom fannies shift
on swivel chairs to stir up yet another question
like morays rooting in the turbid shallows.
Meaning of a Dish Sponge
Your dish sponge—floral-scented,
spanking new, but oh how quickly
it will age from the moment you free it
of its cello-wrap and turn it over,
one side soft and baby blue
the other tough as calloused fists.
How it swigs the suds! Slides like
a lover over porcelain. See it slaughter
the cowering grease!
But soon—so soon—the breakdown;
baby blue goes brown and gnarly;
pots and pans that couldn’t last
one round with Tough Side
easily shred its spavined body; and
finally the stink—Old-Sponge smell
from this simulacrum of its youthful self,
to remind us of our own mortality.
Oh—sorry; but had you never sussed this
meaning? In all the nights you bent your
bones over the sink, hands already shaking
as you squeezed and felt the tears flow?
Outgoing Voicemail from My Ex-Muse
If this is you calling I have to tell you
I’ll be out of town a few weeks
to visit an old friend of mine who
well I won’t lie to you it’s a new friend
who’s been invoking me at a time
when I need the kind of invocation
you once composed to summon me.
Hopeless were your verses, but not
your supplications, all those O‘s
to me so sweet so yearning,
we had a beautiful thing until you
cheapened it with half-heartedness—
no more O Divinely Gifted One
barely an O practically a Hey You.
Perhaps one day that tin ear
of yours will sense the difference
between lute and second fiddle—
which this muse does not play.
Yet I admit
I can’t help wondering where
those pretty Os are going now
now that anyone can see you’ve
been invoking someone else
and probably that imposturing tramp
judging by the even more godawful
crap you call inspired.
Better known for his prose works, including two Book-ofthe-Month Club selections, Arthur Plotnik is a late-emerging poet who has appeared in Brilliant Corners, Rosebud, Harpur Palate, THEMA, Comstock Review, The Cape Rock, Glass, Edify, Off the Coast, Kindred, and several more literary publications. Formerly editorial director at the American Library Association, he was a runner up for the William Stafford Award and a finalist in other national competitions. He lives with his wife in Chicago.
Dynamite Always Brightens a Dumbfounded Winter Day
On the road to the marsh I find
a stick of dynamite, blasting
cap attached. It must have fallen
off a truck. I toss the stick
into a snowbank, retreat
two hundred yards, trigger it
with telepathy. The blast
spews a world-class snow-cloud.
As if a page of music unfurled
in a single huge chord, the noise
astonishes the innocent ear,
leaving a memory of bells.
Nearby trees shrug off their rime
like elegant women undressing.
In a yard a quarter mile away
a pack of retrievers goes crazy.
How did I will such omniscience?
A truck dawdles in spew of fumes
and pulls up beside me, driver
grinning with stainless aplomb.
With honest beer-breath he reports
that the crew heard the blast and cheered.
Dynamite always brightens
a dumbfounded winter day.
The truck maunders on, spewing
a beer can or two. How casual
can explosions be? The ice
on the marsh may have rippled
in sympathy. Maybe an owl
stirred in sleep. Already the dogs
down the road have finished barking
and returned to playing in snow.
The cold pouring down from the Arctic has toughened into a hideous animal that we shouldn’t pet, trust, or feed. Let it forage as it will. Let it growl and claw the pine-trunks. Don’t let it into the house unless you think it’s about to produce a litter. Then, of course, common humanity would require us to shelter it. But I don’t believe there will be a litter. More likely it’s pretending to be pitiful, like the scruffy man who sits in the café all morning staring into his laptop computer without buying anything. Bestial cold will behave in a bestial manner. But it doesn’t conceal its carnivorous instincts. It doesn’t lie about the depth of its cold. It doesn’t strut and boast of conquering creatures more fragile than itself. It doesn’t squat on real estate and milk the poor for mortgages. It doesn’t believe in money, much less waste it on follies to insult the ninety-nine percent. Still we agree that this creature belongs outdoors. Yes, it plants a murky kiss on the kitchen window. Yes, it seems to threaten the deer browsing at our bird feeders. Yes, it whispers brittle little nothings in a language we don’t understand. Let’s just keep it outside, at least for now. I’m confident it will thrive on its own.
William Doreski has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in various journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall.