How Fiction Works

Here is the way to build minor disaster:
a car, a doomsday joke, an opening line.
Say the dictator's elegant wife is Vogue's
Rose of the Desert, posed with her heirs
by the fountain full of huntable coins. Blow that up.
The people are software, she said. By all means,
use the old fairy tales, with an industrial mixer,
a matte finish. There will always be a forest—
the flowers are crepe, and the birds gorgeous metal,
their eyes the buttons of widows' war coats.
The story is the slickest form of taxidermy.
The sidewalk is only the rain's funeral.
It's impossible to make a synthetic version
of the sand's perfumes. The toxins
are subtle, threading yellowly to the hilt
of every front porch in America.
The mills have closed. There never was a product.
Every bottle of dye bought for the pageants
turns the May Queen's hair into glossy algae.
The middle is the hardest part, and we are always in it.
We drive through Arcadia in our Sunday best.
Now all we have is the photo album.
Now all we have is the scrawled directions.
So much waiting for new species, to allow us
tolerance of extinction. We used to praise impatience,
call it national habit, call it the silver filling
in the laughing mouth, and cast its partner, dread,
as the black vastness in the unknowable throat.
Let's re-draw the town's boundaries. Let's pen
a promissory note. Let's hem the gown until we can
no longer see the rotting body. We drank a lot
before we posed the corpses. Our pleasure seemed
the only charitable act: in stolen Teflon,
weren't we all cases-in-waiting? We didn't follow
the critical election, but we assessed our personalities.
The new mills will generate a forest.
The stories end when we decide they do.
The children will wander off, and we'll be left
to press our cheeks to the cool indentations of their footprints.

Michelle Chan Brown's Double Agent was the winner of the 2011 Kore First Book Award, judged by Bhanu Kapil. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Linebreak, The Missouri Review, Quarterly West, Sycamore Review, Witness and others. She lives in Washington DC, where she writes, teaches, and edits Drunken Boat.

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761