Donna Stonecipher

Inlay (Kafka)
New Poems From the USA



          He travelled to Japan but he didn’t see any geishas. He travelled to Kenya but he didn’t
see any giraffes. When he opened the book, he was surprised to find inside it another book. After
a bad night in room 536, the hotel pool swallowed him like a blue mouth swallowing a tiny
sleeping pill.


          It is hard to rip up a photograph with a face in it. In the tiniest torn-up piece, the face is
still intact. The face lies smiling up from the bottom of the wastebasket, and then smiles as it falls
out of the garbage truck onto a lawn, and then smiles as it drifts slowly across the city back to
your door.


          Young people from the less powerful country came over to study the language of the
more powerful neighboring country. The questionnaire found that, within a small margin of error,
such-and-such percentage of women prefer to be on their knees while performing such-and-such
sexual acts.


          She felt like crying when she read in the paper that déjà vu was a chemical reaction in the
body and not a magical window into existences previous and future at all. The oval mirror
hanging by a black ribbon above the mantel reflected part of the dark sofa and the little light-
bomb of the lamp.


          The Russian exile with blue eyes admitted — not without a certain pride — that he had
an accent in every language: A Russian accent speaking German, a German accent speaking
Russian, an indeterminate accent speaking English, and an English accent when speaking


          The language liquefaction. Sexy attempts at traction. A smattering of satisfaction. He
held the word up to the light like a spectacularly faceted chit. She wondered if it were true what
she had read, that when one speaks a foreign language, one becomes, briefly, an exemplar of that
foreign tongue.

                    “What you say sounds reasonable enough,” said the man, “but I refuse
                           to be bribed. I am here to whip people, and whip them I shall.”


          The silent majority stared hard at the vocal minority. More and more, there were eyes
closing as velvet curtains descended upon screens. More and more, there were hands turning on
electric lights in the daytime. More and more, there were cosmopolitans carefully examining
tropical flowers in the dark.


          The young people from the less powerful country did not stop to admire the complicated
beauty of their new language’s intricate grammar. They made neat vocabulary lists in cheap
notebooks, and in their own language made fun of the professor’s hair, glasses, clothing, shoes,
and laugh.


          In Paris the American girl speaking French began almost imperceptibly to bat her
eyelashes. In St. Paul the German boy speaking English had the urge to fill silences almost before
they began. One of the most marvelous memories of her life, she said, was of having déjà vu of
having had déjà vu.


          He travelled to France but he didn’t see any existentialists. He travelled to Italy but he
didn’t see dolce far niente. He travelled to China but he didn’t see any panda bears. He travelled
to California but he didn’t see any surfers. Nevertheless his shell collection, with every vacation,