Back to Issue Forty-Seven




When I was in the Secret Service I would talk to my wrist. It
was part of my job and I was very good at it. I said Breaker
breaker. I said The Jackal is on the move. During the day, I kept
everyone safe. At night, I dreamed of standing very quietly next
to doors. To work at the White House one must be sophisticated
and intense. One must be dedicated to turning the knobs and
lifting the pens that make the laws. One must anticipate, relent-
lessly, the unanticipated. Sometimes, to avoid suspicion, I
would pretend to be a robot and I would sing—like this: beep
boop. An impeccable camouflage. Once, in a submarine, at the
end of a long shift, in the terrible dark beneath a terrible storm,
in the blub and swell of it, sunk and fast-stuck in a trench and
far from home, cold-soaked and lost in the plush of a velvet
suit—an octopus costume, elaborately constructed, with
droopy arms spangled with buttons for suckers—I escaped
discovery several times. If I was undercover now I wouldn’t say.
Until tomorrow. I tell you this because I love you. I might be

doing it all wrong.





My housemate’s girlfriend has a kid who stays with us half the
week. He’s kind of slow for a ten-year old, but everyone keeps
insisting that he’s six. His hair’s too long but I don’t really
know what he looks like because I won’t look him in the face.
He’ll barrel into the kitchen, saying something about dino-
saurs, and stop abruptly, saying You’re not Andy. I never turn
around because sandwiches are important and he shouldn’t be
encouraged to barrel into a room without looking, thinking
that it’s safe because rarely is anything safe, and most people
aren’t Andy, and they will just take what you say about
dinosaurs and twist it around until you sound crazy. Also he
probably has jam on his face and dirty hands. Also I don’t want
to turn around and look him in the face and scare him with my
face, which is a sad face, the face of someone going through a
difficult thing and not handling it very well. He isn’t messy, not
really, just too young to understand that you have to clean as
you go because messes compound and you have to confront the
things you’ve ruined before they drown you in wreckage and
filth. Unless he’s ten, in which case he’s old enough to learn.
Also he got shampoo all over the bathroom because he was
pretending he didn’t know how to wash his hair, hoping
someone else would do it for him, but he put on such a good
show that he convinced himself that he didn’t know how to do
it after all, and he scared himself, which is pretty much what I
do all the time, so it was irritating and made me feel self-
conscious. If he’s six, he probably looks cute with jam on his
face. If he’s ten, probably not. I don’t know what I’d do if he
was sixteen, standing behind me with too-long hair and jam on
his face, going on about dinosaurs with his dirty hands and not
looking up and not realizing that I’m not Andy. When I was in
the hospital and my head was full of noise and snow I still knew
who Andy was. Also there are dogs. I call them Dog, Other
Dog, and Little Dog. I won’t learn their real names. The only
reason you name a dog is so you can tell it what to do. I don’t
know what to do so I’m staying out of it. I don’t look the dogs
in the face either. Once you look something in the face it starts

to want things.





My housemate’s girlfriend has a kid who stays with us half the
week. He is reckless and unkempt. He swerves and lunges. He
flops on the couch and wiggles and pitches fits until the throw
pillows are on the floor and he is upside down. He wants me to
be a ninja with him but I am already a ninja and I am doing it
fine by myself. I skim the wall with my good hand to steady
myself when I walk down the hallway. I walk through the living
room with a blanket over my head to stay invisible while he is
watching cartoons. He eats sugared cereal and cheese sand-
wiches, like the rest of us, but he has to use plastic cups and
plates because he is clumsier than I am. It doesn’t matter. When
the dishes are safe the toy rocketships break apart. There is no
winning. Little pieces fall into the garbage disposal and it hurts
my heart when I turn it on without digging out the pieces first.
He is, I insist, not my problem, but we share a wall so it’s
difficult to remain uncontaminated. It would be nice to have
two kitchens and two front doors so I could enjoy the story of
him without the performance. Strong kicks smash tomatoes with
kicking. He is trying to teach me how to make pasta sauce but I
am not having it because today I am a cowboy. Kid, I have a horse
for that. He stops side kicking imaginary tomatoes with his
strong kicks and looks at me. Is he mean? Can we have a meatball
party? Where are your boots? And I think to myself: yes, no, and
outside. Kid, where’s your mom? He is still looking at me. She’s
in the living room. I get a box of penne out of the cabinet he
cannot reach. That’s not spaghetti. You’re doing it wrong. I take
two pieces and put them in my mouth, like fangs. Listen, you
have to stick to the program. You don’t want to be a villain, do you?

Richard Siken is a poet, painter, and filmmaker. His book Crush won the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, selected by Louise Glück, a Lambda Literary Award, a Thom Gunn Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His other books are War of the Foxes (Copper Canyon Press, 2015) and I Do Know Some Things (forthcoming, Copper Canyon Press, 2024). Siken is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, two Lannan Fellowships, two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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