I’m in the Halle Targowa when he finds me. I’m waiting for the locksmith, I need an adapter for this place. He mumbles fast in his language till I shake my head, “English,” to make him stop and when he doesn’t understand, “America.” At the word he steps closer, unzips his torn plaid jacket, shows a tobacco-stained shirt. Eyes lit, he points at me, taps his chest. “Washington,” he whispers. Smoker’s voice, long liquid cough. He raises the thumb of one hand, spreads wide the fingers of the other – six, but what, children, years? He looks to the side – nobody’s heard – points at me, at his unzipped chest, whispers faster, urgent rasp, “Washington.” With no breath left.
Again I try to explain how all talk is slippery. See, I might want to convey one thing, frustration, say – but all that gets conveyed is some other thing, rage – my hand coming fast, erratic, menacing. Who can say how a thing in words turns, flowers like that? It happens. Now say I want to say to you happiness. No motive. Nothing behind it. Just the awareness of a valve turned suddenly open and hallelujah! – happiness. It’s in the lungs, the bones. But somehow all you hear is I don’t need you. We’re in this room, and you’re not hearing how I’m still trying to say this thing. I’ll say it again. Here. Happiness.
Elisabeth Frost has received grants from the Rockefeller Foundation-Bellagio, the MacDowell Colony, Blue Mountain Center, and elsewhere. Her poetry has appeared in such journals as Denver Quarterly, New England Review, Poetry, Barrow Street, and The Yale Review. Currently a fellow at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, she is the author of a critical study, The Feminist Avant-Garde in American Poetry (University of Iowa Press, 2003).