The Mandarins

We sleep in a red velvet room the novel drew up, and at breakfast there are fourteen people at the table having toast and chicory tea. Swallow the heat that steams, practicing speech. We’ve forgotten how to narrate more than ourselves, but it’s okay, the meal’s over. All the chairs shift and scuff. Here’s a revolution to believe in. Behind the velvet curtains you have hung the stocks and barrels, locked. I see no reason to learn to aim them. The guests move into the living room and light a fire. One tells a joke. Two name myths. The fourteenth has a plan for us to step into. This is a party, remember: Joy. I weigh the heat outside my skin, sip tea, the heat inside me. As the fire dwindles, the guests exit stage left, so it is only you and me at the oak table for lunch. We eat sandwiches and reminisce a time when we were always alone, then I clear the table, while you fondle curtains, take down a gun and aim it at the window. I read you passages from the novel, about Paula, how she could have sung but chose not to; about Nadine, who tried to grow up but smeared the charcoal under her eyes; about all the men at bars speaking the conditions and conceits of war. You lock the barrel to the wall. Out the window, the street is pavement, it is raining, all the pit bull puppies thrash at their fences. Yes, I know what will change, only nothing has happened yet. Yes, we light candles, untie ribbons, cover the windows. You open the book. I finger the locks. We speak belief, and it is only a word.

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Aimee Wright Clow is a writer and book designer living in Durham, NC, where she co-curates the Octopod Poetry & Music Series. Her book arts project, A Brief Map of Albany, is available from Utilities Included. aimeewrightclow.com

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