From “Letters to Arthur”//Alina Stefanescu

1 / Shme



The face in the mirror needs an elevator to ascend a series of steps. The face is a skyscraper and I climb inside using two hemp ropes.


She wants you to climb in with her, Arthur. She thinks you’d like the view.


She is Shme but it depends on what you know of Romanian art. It depends on the 19th century.


I wanted to have sex on a balcony with Tudor Arghezi. The moment of longing took place a decade after the end of ideology and two years prior to the birth of revanchist rhinoplasties. A year when I desired to lie half-naked and swathed in lilac silks waiting for the painter to enter.


The year before I wanted to wade through so many rivers that I could no longer move through an image of the landscape. A staph infection in my left foot accomplished my ends and opened wide the doors of rural hospitalure. When the nurse served doughnuts, hospitality ached down the narrow shaft of its words root and I bit in.


We understood that She belonged to her everyday life but you told me the perspective was wrong. Did you want me to watch her like Musil from atop the wardrobe? This is the twenty-first century, an era where insider views abound. An inside-her view panorama perhaps befits us.


She lacks this everyday life you speak about as if Shme cannot move across time, this eternal present we wrap for future use. Drop the hash pipe, Arthur. We are here.





43 / Copenhagen Window



The drive through backwoods is humbug.


The Count is driving and his kid leather gloves keep him from feeling what it means to drive. Perhaps he is driven and I am driving but we go too fast to read the signs.


Had you warned me, no difference. A warning warms words into campfires and some of us know only the horror of icy cold hands. I keep warm with your warning, Arthur, the countryside pivots past like a gallery of red awnings and buzz cut grass.


At the gas station, gentlemen savages hunt their news by the light they have invented as the sky crests mauve–a weak rural mauve, the decay a decoy, a shade no painter would mix if he wanted to tell a Sunday story.


It is Sunday. But no Sunday story comes loose.





46 / Flight



Breathless nomadic foot soldiers of inner city disharmonies, they stand with feet poised near the wings of simple skateboards. There is no wind except flight, the earliest eternal dream, the folly of business class. I admire their ardor as it smacks the concrete; flip the palm’s penny; stop counting. Above me, their arms outstretched, who dares speak the truth, say how children hug hardest the sky.


You promised poets would be citizens– their words no longer lyrics to describe the melody of actions, ex post facto, no longer accompaniments but conductors and bearers of mad batons.


My top hat waits. A word in the poet’s mouth is not a description but a prophecy, the lozenge enscrawled, the face enscribbled. We dress up like guides while the masses play Scrabble, look to us for odd words. Politics partitioned like the wine in a chalice, we mechanize the movements of the veil.


But the skateboarders fly, Arthur. 


They fly past me. No word which comes can beat them.


I am left behind, eyes wide as spring lily pads, throwing words to ducks who already know how to eat but humor me nevertheless pecking crumbs.





53 / New Forms



Inventions of the unknown demand new forms, you confided in an epistle to a male friend.


In the same letter, you said women must be liberated so they might discover new unknowns previously kept from hungry eyes.


Arthur, how my fingers trembled when you offered me sight. How easy then to overlook the caveat which requires me to see something pleasing.


You call it unknown but what of me have you known and what more supple mystery than the nights of a creature who bleeds by the magnetic force of the moon.


Inventions of the unknown demand new forms. the form of female you create to invent unknowns–will she give your words the life you drain to make her?


I think of the unbearable witch who lights her clay pot fire— the one who will never tell us what she knows, and what we do not know. After the deluge, pry open her lips and compel her to speak. Call her compulsion poetry. A baptism of fire to enshrine the novel form.


A new form emerges but the bend of her back looks the same.





60/ Train There



The train wobbles, batting my reflection from side to side between two metal tracks though the mirror is a box I mostly move in the space left by parallel lines.


Mostly I avoid intersections. Steer clear of traffic lights, yes/no signs, the manufactured consent of road rules. Nod briefly at elderly passengers on the way back to a window seat because they are old enough to read Robespierre’s bloody virtue on my brow. Wise enough to fear reformations.


The magistrate judges me from the surly compartments of his Facebook page. Social media tweets against the heart’s constant intercourse with blood. The heart has no hands and yet its hands are bloody. Bloody heart, bloody fingers.


Newcomers have a right to condemn their ancestors. Thus the elderly feed looming hawks with morsels of bread. Their chins roll into necks like Twinkies. Rolling chins, Twinkie faces.


A nearby third estate sends text messages in a code one mistakes for mysticism. One must look past the third estate and the garish gold of Versailles to the arterial congestion of traffic jam expressions whereby the bored youth paint their faces a tepid gout.


One regime spawns a change in tempo. Pointillism lost the starting point. No point at which to begin. No point in beginning. We move between tracks, moves coordinated by tracking devices.


Treason is a choice between voting and terror. We vacillate from one day to the next in the schedule, the unmade plans, every day blazed in red letters on a calendar with nothing but the Ninth of Thermidor.

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania, raised in Alabama, and reared by the love-ghost of Tom Waits and Hannah Arendt. Her homeland is a speculative fiction. Currently, she lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner and and three children. Despite the materialist culture of middlebrow Dixie, Alina believes in banjos, bonfires, ghosts, and sundry, elusive things.  Her website is here, and she tweets at @aliner.