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Rachel Malis is an MFA student at Arizona State University. She has been published in “Wooden Teeth” and “Mortar and Pestle”, and won the Academy of American Poets Junior Prize for the George Washington University in the spring of 2007. She currently holds a Virginia G. Piper Writer’s fellowship.

By Rachel Malis
Observer Contributor
Nov. 29, 2007

Hearing You

Listen to this.
I’m on a sidewalk by a bar in the middle of Arizona.
There are people inside the bar.

I haven’t mentioned their names to you.
They’re drinking and smoking and playing pool.
If you were here, you’d play, too.

I’m talking to the whitest moon I’ve ever seen
to the triangles of black sky between palm trees,
to the pink and white adobe doorframe.

Where are you now? I’m choosing
the mountain in Vermont just to have one.
Pine needles in the soles of your shoes

and on the ground, beds for dying fireflies.
They’re wondering why I’m still outside.
Your words will come faster in cold air.

Say my nickname.
The sound of vowels rolling in your mouth.
Say the chords of the song you wrote.

Please hurry. It’s August. I’m in the valley.
Those are my eyes, fighting with the moon.
That’s smoke from my cigarette, lifting up into the lamplight.


There was a woman who did this
before me: the housesitter for a friend.

She explored rooms barefoot,
nudging stacks of papers.

I hear her at the sight of the third floor
suffocating with wall-to-wall books.

These same two cats wind
around her ankles wanting to be fed.

The silverware drawer is hard to open,
the handle still warm from her struggle with it.

There was nothing especially sad about the room
in which she killed her son, and then herself.

Violet last words into the phone,
then the kitchen, reborn as a grave.

She stood under the same showerhead,
naked and surrounded in steam.

I’ve inherited this set of spare keys,
the same pilgrimage

to a quiet neighborhood.
Leaving, I squeeze the keys

between my fingers,
struggling to close the door,

fighting with my weight
against the wood, straining

to hear the sound of the lock
click into place.

Shipwreck Assassin

A fisherman wanders down the street
with a wooden anchor over his shoulder,
one hand pressed to his cheek.

His mouth spilling a trail of vapor.
The toes of his shoes worn down,
dragging across the sidewalk

through the haze of his own breath.
He can’t get too lost
with the clouds to hedge him in.

He finds the water. There is no other way.
He sits by the side of a lake,
missing his boat.

He chokes and coughs, wondering
if he will cough up pieces of it:
the boom, or maybe a mast.

He sees feathers floating on the surface
of the water; they are equal
in their melancholy, wanting to be fish.

A little girl with blonde hair down her back
appears beside the man with her orange drink,
rocking up the sides of the bottle

nearly the size of her waist.
She pours it into the lake
and disappears as quickly as she came.

The feathers have one future
He watches the feathers sink,
try their fins, fail, and finally drown.


A movement, hardly perceptible,
will soon nestle in the clefts of my brain.
It will feel like a shadow, and recognize me.
Already knowing the design of my veins,
it will find the best route for coursing
through my bloodstream.

I will recognize it too,
in the shower, palms pressed and pink
against the cream of the cold tile.
I will purse my lips against the wall,
its rivulets, its grout.

The first sign of death will feel like a practical joke:
I’ll hear the doorbell chime and find no one there,
nothing but a wind passing into my house
after snaking darkly around my neck.


Just moved out of another apartment,
and my old roommate still gets my mail.
She comes to my door, shuffling
my envelopes in her hands, asking
as she knocks, “Are you in there?”
Through the peephole, I see her
rocking her weight, swaying in the hall.
I may have been a nomad, but Christopher
was a man of roots. I laid my home in him,
sleeping between his heart and his arm
until he became sick. He watched me
shuffle around our apartment, asking for time.
I rocked his weight, undercurves in my arms.
The last time we moved our bodies in tandem.

So I moved to escape; I couldn’t bear
to see envelopes addressed in his name.
Because I was never one for roots,
I didn’t request my mail forwarded,
but sometimes his catalogues follow me
and I pause before opening my mailbox,
knocking on the little metal door.
I ask: “Are you in there?” while peeping
through the slot made for a key.
All that sits on my mantle now is his urn,
a man reduced to a name on the envelopes,
weight in a little brass vase no bigger
than a fishbowl. Leaning in, I touch
my palm to its surface, rocking
as I ask him, “Are you in there?”

The American University School of Communication Graduate Program in Journalism works to prepare students for the realities of today's news and information space and the challenges of tomorrow. Find out more by visiting us online at soc.american.edu

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