I’m at a hotel in a third-world country. War breaks out. Many of the tourists get out, go home, but days later I’m still there. Across the bay I watch as an event occurs. Smoke covers the night sky. I’ve got to get out. My father is with me. We start running. As we run, the people around us change. They’re Japanese! They’re Haitian! They’re Hawaiian! We run. We get to a plane. On the plane the only person I know is my stepsister’s husband. I’m dispassionate about his survival, almost indifferent. The plane is attacked. We shoot through the air like a missile. People are thrown about the cabin for what seems like hours. I am strangely calm. Either my children are safely elsewhere or never existed or are already killed. I’m neither afraid nor grief stricken. When we hit the water I think, “more people died,” and I say to my step-brother-in-law, “It’s time to get out.” The water is spraying into the plane through tiny cracks in the walls. I stop a uniformed crewman and ask the way out. At first he lies to me but by watching his eyes I figure out the real directions. The crew is misdirecting passengers because there isn’t time for everyone to escape. On my way to the exit I pass a man pushing a baby in a stroller. The man is weeping. “Your wife died?” I ask him. He nods. I point toward the real exit. He is skeptical. I say, “You couldn’t be of less use to me,” which makes him trust me. When we reach the exit I see that the baby is disfigured. I don’t care. I don’t care about anything or anyone. That’s why we will survive. I have never been so powerful.
I am a tenure track professor in the English department. A group of three women call me over to their table. We’re in a dining hall or a library. I’m pleased to be invited. These women are older and have never given me the time of day before. They begin to ask me questions about poetry and about my favorite poets. I try to impress them but they seem dissatisfied with my answers. “Do you mean to say the only job of a poet is to put words together in a way that makes them interesting?” asks one of the women. I start to answer—start to say something about how combinations of words are often interesting even without the poet doing very much—but it’s strangely difficult to speak. I reach into my mouth and pull out a retainer that is connected to brackets and braces. I start pulling out the braces, hoping to be able to speak more easily. A thick strand of drool stretches from my mouth to my hand, which is full of small, metal pieces. I say, “I’m muh moor arficulate when I’m theach’hing.” “That’s so passive!” one woman says, frowning at me. “Alice Notley is very aggressive and I love her!” I spit back. At this point, a nearby table of men shush us loudly.
RACHEL ZUCKER is the author of four collections of poems, most recently Museum of Accidents. These dream poems will appear in her next collection, The Pedestrians (Wave Books, April, 2014). Zucker teaches poetry at NYU and is the recipient of a NEA fellowship.
Read more by Rachel Zucker:
Three more poems in B O D Y
Poem at Poetry Daily
Essay in The New York Times