As soon as you have put two things
together, you have a story.
— John Baldessari
In the story I am the nightingale, and you
are usually the hotplate; though occasionally
you are the subway token, and I am the Queen
of Norway. Once I was copper ore, running
in thin sheets through the gut of a mountain,
and you were the favorite rooster, pecking corn
from the hand of the farmer’s wife. Sometimes
the story struggles to hold it all: the runaway
train and the cheetah. The booster rocket and
the handgun. Now I am strung on a rosary.
Now you are ripening on a tree. Years pass,
as if the story had forgotten us. Then a priest
holds the paper to a candleflame; and the nun’s
love letters, writ in lemon juice, come to life.
For six months I dealt Baccarat in a casino.
For six months I played Brahms in a mall.
For six months I arranged museum dioramas:
my hands were too small for the Paleolithic
and when they reassigned me to lichens, I quit.
I type ninety-one words a minute, all of them
Help. Yes, I speak Dewey Decimal.
I speak Russian, Latin, a smattering of Tlingit.
I can balance seven dinner plates on my arm.
All I want to do is sit on a veranda while
a hard rain falls around me. I’ll file your 1099s.
I’ll make love to strangers of your choice.
I’ll do whatever you want, as long as I can do it
on that veranda. If it calls you, it’s your calling,
right? Once I asked a broker what he loved
about his job and he said Making a killing.
Once I asked a serial killer what made him
get up in the morning, and he said The people.
Reprinted from I Was the Jukebox by Sandra Beasley. Copyright (c) 2010 by Sandra Beasley. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Sandra Beasley's first poetry collection, Theories of Falling, won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize. Her new collection, I Was the Jukebox, won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize. Beasley's nonfiction has been featured in the Washington Post, and her memoir, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, is forthcoming from Crown. She lives in Washington, DC, and blogs at Chicks Dig Poetry.