Jeff Friedman


The autocrat draws a large crowd for his speech. He begins to speak but no words come out. Surprised, he rubs his jaw and opens and closes his mouth, touching his tongue to the roof of his mouth several times. He breathes deeply for a moment. And then he begins his speech again, but still no words. He gesticulates desperately as if that will explain everything, make his meaning clear. The crowd stares at the silent mouth waiting for even a tiny sound to emerge, perhaps even a squeak. Then there is a great clamoring among them, and the autocrat orders them to be silent, to respect his silence or lose their lives. The crowd sees his lips moving vigorously, contorting around soundlessness and air and bursts into applause as though he has just said something that stirs their imagination. He points his finger at individuals he wants his guards to execute. The guards stay put, unable to read his lips. The crowd points back at the autocrat, tapping their hearts.

JEFF FRIEDMAN has published nine collections of poetry and prose, including The Marksman (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2020), Floating Tales (Plume Editions/Madhat Press, 2017), and most recently The House of Grana Padano (Pelekinesis, April 2022), co-written with Meg Pokrass. He has received an NEA Literature Translation Fellowship and numerous other awards and prizes.

Read more by Jeff Friedman:

Prose poems in B O D Y
Prose poems in The American Journal of Poetry
Flash fiction in Flash Boulevard
Collaborations with Meg Pokrass in HOLE IN THE HEAD re:VIEW
Five poems in New World Writing
Four poems in Plume
Author’s Website