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Tables and Chairs
by Eleanor Lerman

I know what I look like
in the supermarket buying
jam and bread instead of
cooking up a plan. Or

tidying up behind the bank,
hoping for an accidental delivery
while I carry my little dog around
in a shoulder holster

Old and foolish. Not dangerous
anymore, plus unemployed: just a
kid without a kingdom, a babushka
smacked around by the wind

Ha! She thinks that little dog can shoot
And she still believes that she was born
in a monsoon season, in a bloody year
But who cares except the hospital?

Who cares? Perhaps the tables
and chairs that open up the
morning café and let me pay with
coins that represent sincerity

because if I can carry all that remains
in a single pocket then life will go on
for a few more hours. Then messages
will arrive in envelopes of pain

that taste like orange marmalade
That was the plan all along, devised
in the playland of loss, dementia
and ruin: to eat what was served

and say nothing about it. To tell
my secrets to no one but the little dog,
who represents eternity. To wear
the wind like a scarf and let the body

stand out in the rain, if that’s what it wants
If that will ease its suffering, poor thing
As if suffering exists. As if the fortune tellers
hired by the state are right in their prediction
that only one more bloody year

will pass until the infinite comes crashing
through the skylight and dinner cooks itself
As for me, I am still waiting to be saved by anyone
who loves their pet. Or a girl on a bicycle,

a boy in a dream. I am dreaming of
the way out of my dilemma: to live
because I want to or because it is really
jade that represents sincerity,

pale green jade and white flowers
that remain after the fires go out,
after I use the embers to make a necklace
that I will wear when I go shopping with

the little dog, who represents the time
that I have left. Which I will use as
best I can. Which is what I am doing now,
trying to help the broken heart of tomorrow

to buy its medicine. Which is how I spend
whatever I can earn: one penny at a time,
one dog day after another, one little life,
one beating heart. Which is what I believe:

that only thus may we embrace
again in the shopping malls of time
In the lanes and alleys where we were
really born. So read this as a signal that
all is forgiven. That the tables and chairs

are cooking up a plan that will cost us
nothing. That will let us walk out into the
dusty morning and partake, like good citizens
and blessed hooligans, of all that remains

PAINTING: Girl with Dog by Berthe Morisot (1886).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Tables and Chairs” is part of a new collection of poems, currently in progress. This will be the first collection of poetry I’ve put together in seven years because I’ve been focusing on writing fiction. For me, poetry is a way of talking to myself; it tends to demand my attention—meaning, poems demand to be written—when some internal change is taking place. With this new collection, the change involves being attentive to what’s happening to the way I think and the way I relate to the wider world as I get older. I was a bit of a wild child when I began writing poetry as a teenager; is the wildness still there? Is the spirit still rebellious? Is my work still the central focus of my life? When I need to answer these questions, I write poetry. Hence, “Tables and Chairs,” and the other poems that will be in the collection to be entitled Beautiful Denizens of the Deep, Dark Night. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eleanor Lerman, the author of numerous award-winning collections of poetry, short stories and novels, is a National Book Award finalist, has received both NEA and Guggenheim fellowships, and was awarded the Lenore Marshall Prize for Poetry from the Academy of American Poets. Her most recent novel, Watkins Glen (Mayapple Press), will be published in June 2021. Visit her at eleanorlerman.com.