Elizabeth Tannen

Like ice—
thoughts form hard and gleaming, but bound
to breaking, pure and slow.

I know: morning’s purposeful grip scatters

with the day.

I know: time skates through inert materials,

like shyness and gas.

And then there’s loneliness, which I saw

just yesterday in the shape of a shadow

behind the gas station on Lyndale Avenue.

At certain hours, the syntax of the city
grants you space to address
other notions of yourself. All the tall tales

you can weave! Try them aloud:

You are the only person who invented sorrow—
your particular version, I mean.

You are tidy, and unkempt, full of a sheen that is
translucent—in certain corners of the Midwest.

You wouldn’t understand. You keep trying to understand.


I keep imagining a dollhouse. It has angles like

ours: the perfect, miniature version of any
stranger’s face.

Look, in the top right bedroom: isn’t that a light?

Smoking on the Stoop at Night

O motherless Minnesota night, come have a cigarette
with me on the stoop! I know it’s bad, but you have the privilege

of being eternal. And me

     I’m good at pretend.

It’s only July, but already I fear being left. Let’s be step–children

of summer together! Just slip along the moonlight, these damp corners
won’t gossip,

     I promise.

You have things to teach me, I think, about stillness—or patience—or how to feign
indifference when your edges rise with swells
of daylight or big red bites.

Here, lie back.
See this plain, inverted symmetry above us, all vinyl and rust?
See these swirls of mosquitoes and smoke?
I want them to bathe me—and you!—in some shaft of comfortable meaning; blunt
evening’s blade of impossible desire.

     I know.

It’s late, and I should rest.

But I’d rather

     stay here. I’d rather lean against the concrete, and watch the insects lean
          toward the light, and wish for you to dull a looming impact I can’t even
               perceive through your

                    milky atmosphere.

Elizabeth Tannen is a Brooklyn–born, Minneapolis–based writer. She’s published essays and stories in places like Salon, The Rumpus, B O D Y, The Morning News and elsewhere. She writes the blog Dating in the Odyssey Years, and these are her first published poems.