Things I Cannot Say

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Things I Cannot Say

Even when you are a one-year-old jumping out of your crib
(you have no particular reason for jumping, but you do it,
& the thud you make that’s loud but doesn’t hurt,
wakes your father, the menacing resonance of whose
footsteps approaching your room overwhelms you with terror—
your own heartbeat surging in your head—which you catalogue
into your infant consciousness as a sense of mortal danger
you will run from for the rest of your life, though you have no
language to account for it yet), you already implicitly understand
that your fear is a thing you must never talk about out loud, for
the only way its malaise living in your veins could feel worse,
would be if the words you formulated & ascribed to its being
resulted in its summary negation.

___________________________________For the same, essential reason,
you still hardly believe the amazing thing that happened to you
one day, back when you were a burned-out Graduate Assistant
(who couldn’t have distinguished a metaphysical marvel from
her left elbow)—when, because your arms were overfull with books,
an orangutan puppet named Andreas, & his overripe, over-handled
banana, which you’d recruited to teach German reflexive verbs
to Undergrads, you decided to take the elevator back up from your
third floor classroom to your eighth floor office in Van Hise,
& discovered yourself being flanked for five flights by two
Tibetan Buddhist Monks in their maroon & saffron-yellow robes:
Geshe Sopa, whom you recognized from the Asian Studies Department
on the twelfth floor, & his brightly-smiling companion, none other than
His Holiness the Dalai Lama—even though you’ll never forget how
Andreas clasped his banana, while you summarily exited your body
on a silent wave of preternatural warmth, the mouth of the thing
you would never again inhabit fixing itself into a ridiculous grin.

For my part, I think it’s entirely possible that I’ve been a bodiless soul
since infancy, & also that I never did actually receive a new life from
the Dalai Lama in an elevator in Wisconsin, but I cannot say for certain.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Things I Cannot Say” was published in the Fall 2017 edition of Harbinger Asylum (thank you to editors Z.M. Wise and Dustin Pickering for selecting this piece), and appears in my forthcoming chapbook, The Death’s-Heads Testament, available NOW for preorder purchase (for only $6.50 per copy!) from Main Street Rag (scheduled for release in March 2019).

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My Day 17 Poem for the May 30/30 Challenge is up at Tupelo Press!

funny-dalai-lama-cartoon-birthday

Things I Cannot Say 

With reverence for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and with special thanks to Robert Okaji for supplying the title that breathed life into this poem 

Even when you are a one-year-old jumping out of your crib
(you have no reason for having jumped, but once it’s done,
and the thud you’ve made that was loud but didn’t hurt…

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