Poetry

Three Stephanies

October 28, 2013

These poems accompany Monica Youn's interview with Stephen Burt.

 

PAPER STEPHANIE
 
                        for Tom Tierney
 
Deliberately out of date and overelaborate,
I am less flimsy than boys think.
What if I had a side you could not see?
I can stand up with some help. I can raise my hand,
my glass or my bangle or my japonaiserie fan,
though never all four at once. I know
the name of the artist who made me and made my hair,
with its scribbles and angles, and my other hair,
with its Byzantine curves and its coils, and my other hair,
that I wore when I was a flapper. I have been cut out,
re-folded, unfolded, and put back into a folder;
I have been lost and found and lost and found.
 
Someday I will be left in a cardboard box,
the kind loosely associated with shoes.
Should I fear scissors, or love them? Once
I was colorless, I was self-consciously artistic,
I was a fluster magnet, I was scared.
I rang my torn telephone. I was the belle of a ball
where even the gloves were bell-shaped. I could not hear.
I did not look like me at all.
 
A pencil mark grazes my ankle. A chestnut
paper stallion, tilted an inch off the vertical,
propped on three out of four legs, watches over me
from the jury-rigged off-white lean-to of an envelope
that serves him as a bedroom or a stall.
 
Once I was interchangeable, then I was hurt
and then I was loved, and now I am not so sure.
I lived upside down for a week. I got stuck in a comb,
my face in thick carpet, in bustle and comical trap,
my ballet slippers, my riding boots and tap
shoes circled around me, none of them ready to wear.
I fear adventure, and yet I would like to be seen.
I fray and sag in my thick bustle, in tan riding skirts,
in mythical petticoats. Maybe I’ll never leave home.
 
 
 
LIKE STEPHANIE
 
Like cracks around the apex of an egg                       like the chick from the egg
 
Like the infamous block of marble into which the chisel delves,
excavating its irreversible                    concatenation of calcium carbonate
that could become a king        or slaves                      or dust
 
Like the shadowy telephone-booth-sized installation    entitled Kayla Takes Off Her Shirt,
put up my by my student Kayla Escobedo       with its valise-sized video screen
in which a backlit actor with a papier-mache head     half kid half toad
 
keeps pulling her tight canary-yellow                 shirt over that head to reveal
another taut canary-yellow shirt
 
now stretching the Lycra        now slumped forward again
 
 
 
FUNDAMENTAL ATTRIBUTION ERROR (MERET OPPENHEIM & STEPHANIE)
 
            Meret Oppenheim: Red Head, Blue Body
 
            1
 
My head is red,
my body blue.
There are hooks that connect them,
tenaciously, to each other,
but all of them run through you.
 
            2
 
My head belongs to somebody else (it’s still red)
although my shoulders are mine (they are still blue).
There are sketchy pulleys and counterweighted cords
that keep falling off, and usually fail to connect them
to good adult manners, which have nothing to do
with me, but something to do with you.
 
            3
 
My head is a sweet ball of red.
My body is terribly plaited, a sad flap, veined blue.
 
I have been trying to put them together, to gather
them into a regal posture, or
a meretricious
burgundy, or an impression
of swagger or sprezzatura, an abecedarian,
abstruse, can’t-catch-me rollercoaster
of a surgical outline where
one shape of me becomes the shape of you.
 
 
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