Oct/Nov 2007 Poetry

Two Poems

by Paul Hostovsky

To Leave

Those rocky outcroppings
on the side of the highway
remind me of the planets
the Little Prince visited—

just big enough
for one person and a desk,
a space for thinking to yourself
out in the middle of space,

I think to myself as I drive past,
picturing that little kid
with the long scarf and yellow hair
standing up there. How did he

get around anyway? They never
explained that in the book. Madame
loved that book and wanted us
to love it, too. But I think we

misunderstood it. Something about
a flower and a sheep. A fox and a hat that
was really a snake with an elephant
inside it. That book was harder

than it looked. Maybe that's why
I'm still thinking about it now,
looking for an exit ramp, light-years
away from the hillocky sphere where I was a kid

myself once. Madame got sick—
and we had a substitute teacher then
who dropped her r's, even in French.
Every time she dropped an r we dropped

a book, loudly on the floor. Oh, how we
tortured her. She got mad, ordered me to
leave: sortez! Minus the r, it sounded
like sauter: to jump. So I jumped

up and down, up and down. I kept
jumping because she kept on yelling:
sautez! sautez! Madame never did
come back. I think she may have

died. It was ambiguous, the way
they left it at the end of that book—you felt
like crying though it wasn't clear exactly
what happened. Just that it was sad,

but also somehow very
beautiful. Sometimes you don't
quite know why you feel like crying.
You just do. And it feels good, somehow.

Once upon a time I was laughing,
when the next thing I knew
a book shut loudly, then a door
was closing behind me

and I was leaving—
walking down an infinitely tessellating
hallway, crying
with a little jump in my step.


If Not for Stephen Dunn

This poem is not for Stephen Dunn.
It's for the one whose Stephen Dunn I stole
out of a hospital waiting room
when no one was looking,

when he or she—when you
(I like to imagine you're a she)
got up to go to the toilet maybe,
and sat there thinking
(I like to imagine you sitting on a toilet, thinking)

about a poem by Stephen Dunn
lying open and face down
out on the waiting room table where you left it,
a little naively perhaps,

among the magazines—
an expensive cut of meat on a bed of jellybeans,
cooling on the sill of the world

where I found it
when I entered feeling ravenous
and symptomatic,

you only live once,
and feeling
justified in stealing this book,
stuffing it into my yellow backpack like enough
food for one person for one year.

A year later I returned it.
It was one week after 9/11. Policemen
were stationed in the hospital corridors then.

I must have looked guilty, shady, unshaven,
like a terrorist trying to plant
fifty stolen poems by Stephen Dunn
on a waiting room table full of magazines,

for they stopped me
just inside the doorway,
and asked me politely and dead

to remove my yellow backpack.
Two secretaries, a nurse, several patients
(I like to imagine a liver recipient
sitting somewhere among them) looked on

as two thick and inarticulate
constabulary hands,
trembling, drew out
and held up under a light, under a nose,

this bundle of devices
with enough combined force to take
at least 3 lives—
yours, mine, and Dunn's—
completely by surprise.


Previous Piece Next Piece