- Barry Hannah
- Open City/AAWW
- Sound Art/Dissonance
- Trance Poetics
Three months ago a new tenant moved into the apartment between us. Until that day we had been spending every day together. We read Die Verwandlung and Das Schloß to each other in foreign accents; sometimes we even called my parents and put them on speakerphone. Every Sunday we conjugated our spines, and on Wednesdays we boiled alphabet soup until I was so full I slurred my words. We were close, like envelope and letter. I was proud to be seen with him in public: at the park, in class, or at the coffee shop. I could order a medium non-fat hazelnut latte, triple shot, and chocolate chip cherry scone without stuttering when he put his hands on my neck. I was in love with his articulate shoulders, his hyphenated hands.
But on the day she moved into the empty apartment, everything changed. My scrabble board tilted and letters slipped into the carpet darkness. Her rolling R’s made my walls shake. She had a beautiful mouth and perfect bread roll dimples when she laughed. Her mouth was waiting to be filled with words. It didn’t take long before he stopped waking me up in the morning with his gentle throat clearing, until he forgot to help me with my speech exercises or juggling difficult consonants. He was beginning to see her. At first they attempted to keep it a secret, only whispering behind the walls. But as time passed, and he continued to ignore all my verses that I had slipped below his door, they both lost all inhibition. I could hear them play Boggle, and by the sound of her screaming I knew she was winning every game. I would return from work, and there he was purring and gurgling behind the curtains. As I was trying to fall asleep, they practiced vowels like lambs, bleating below the sky of a ceiling fan.
And then words hit the fan, diphthongs splattered the walls. It was a Saturday night, our special time reserved for stacking prefixes and suffixes in the cupboards. The happy couple returned home from a rhyming circus, or some other annoying literary event. I was frying green beans, and through the kitchen blinds I could see him carrying her on his shoulders. She kissed him on the head and covered his ears. Not paying attention to the pan, smoke began to curl inside my throat and the fire alarm suddenly drilled my ears. I knew it was over then. Outside the words came pouring out of her mouth, consonants illuminated by the lantern’s light. An eager b bounced on the fence, multiplying with other bilabial sounds. I quickly stuffed the charred beans in my mouth, heard her laugh like a circus clown.
A couple of weeks have passed since I moved out of that mute hell. I live above a mortuary now, and I have to say the dead are great tenors. I am slowly becoming acquainted with a new and more reliable alphabet. The bakery down the street sells croissants that are shaped like greasy C’s. And still, once in a while a familiar ich hab dich lieb uttered on the bus will remind me of him, and I feel a tickle in my throat, like a fine hair stuck in that unattainable place. Ach, he had such a melodious and trumpeting voice—my dear, dear native tongue.
Monika Zobel’s poems and translations have been published or are forthcoming in Best New Poets 2010, Crab Creek Review, Cream City Review, Guernica Magazine, Moon Milk Review, Poetry International, Weave Magazine, West Branch, and Zoland Poetry. She works as a senior editor for The California Journal of Poetics. A recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, Monika currently lives in Vienna, Austria and translates contemporary Austrian poetry.