Poetry [poem] by Donna Masini

He was fond of phrases like “the grim reaper”—
the very thing not to say
the night he picked up the skinny hitchhiker

is the kind of story you can make up in thirty seconds
conjuring a riot of possibility and violence,
two unnamed—ok, call them

Harry and Larry and Imagine
there’s a place for these potential extras
mindlessly invented, suspended

in a kind of protoplasmic limbo
Dante knew something about.  They haven’t done anything
yet, but lie mewing in their bluish onesies,

newborn, beside the social worker who met
the foster parent in a gritty café.  (He was covered in
cat hair, something she would later tell the police.)

What happens to these people
we keep making up?  I like to think of them
incubating in an adjacent world—Inciting Incidents,

Abandoned  Drafts—where one cop already begins
to have a body.  Overweight. White.  Significant
Details poisoning his mother’s three cats with random eucalyptus.

Invention is reckless.   Or do they exist
before we pluck them from their yeasty ether,
eager to nurse them, foster and pet and send them off

in the hope they’ll rise and do…something. Sometimes
I wonder about the infinite
possibilities.  So many words.  Endless

combinations.  So why so hard to sit here
in this dreaded plenitude increasing the population?  Hell
I can’t even think of a name for my cat.


Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

Image by Andrey

Donna Masini is the author of Turning to Fiction (W.W. Norton and Co. 2004), and That Kind of Danger (Beacon Press, 1994), which won the Barnard Women Poet’s Prize, and the novel, About Yvonne (WW Norton and Co. 1998).  Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies including Poetry, Open City, The Paris Review, APR, Parnassus, Ploughshares, Pushcart Prize, Best American Poetry 2015.  A  recipient of an NEA Fellowship and NYFA Grant, she is a Professor of English at Hunter College where she teaches in the MFA Creative Writing program.  She is at work on a new book of poems, 4:30 Movie and has recently completed a novel, The Good Enough Mother.