Four Prose Poems By Susan Lewis
The Young Man (III)
One day, the young man unwittingly procured a magic mirror. Not particularly prone to vanity, he proceeded to ignore it — until one night, hours after a disastrous date, in which his words & hers had flown past one another like skew lines on a two-dimensional field. The mirror showed him just where he’d gone wrong, leaving the discouraged fellow to stew in his own regret. Some months later, it revealed just how he should have managed his ex-boss’s mercurial temper. Over the years, the mirror disclosed infallibly & unconstructively what the not-so-young man should have done. One day it offered the moment in his past when he’d chosen to bring it home in the first place. In the reflection, he saw himself do what he had not been able to manage — until that explosive & liberating moment.
After So Many Years
of relative calm, it was time to try anything new. With some trepidation, he took the initiative, offering her a shallow bite from either ear, in exchange for one from hers. After the requisite healing period, she took him nude skydiving. He brought home an armadillo. She arranged a night in a room furnished entirely with structures built from naked dancers of several genders, as beautiful as they were disciplined. Any creeping sense of boredom had, by this time, vanished. Still they persevered. He constructed a week’s worth of meals comprised of living things. She pasted pictures of his plaster-cast extremities in the stodgiest neighborhoods — only to discover that most popular was his diminished ear. He procured a fur-lined cave. She requested love talk in an invented language. He roasted the armadillo, loaded the meat into the empty shell, & convinced her, with an assortment of punishments & rewards, to wriggle on her belly to the sea, where she discovered an abandoned boat ready to carry them to the next enactment of their mounting courage.
if not years of discomfort with the physical as well as interpersonal implications of aging, she had the urge to lap milk from a saucer. Afterwards, it was only natural to curl up in the window for a nap. Soon, not only did she feel better, she was unable to recall exactly what had bothered her a few days (or was it weeks?) before. Naturally, she racked her brain for someone to tell of her breakthrough. But all she could think of was the next saucer of milk — that, & the perfect square of sunshine centered, at that very moment, so invitingly on the blanket lying folded atop her dresser — landing on it with less effort than she had needed to exert for what seemed like a lifetime.
The Young Man (IV)
For as long as he could remember, the young man was able to take the measure of virtue. This was a matter of neither estimation nor approximation but precise & instantaneous quantitative assessment. He sized up a person’s goodness the way others might evaluate eye color or height. He had only to watch someone interact & he could see, clear as day, the quality & extent of her decency. Like traces of lead in fingernails or hair, even strangers’ moral worth was exposed by talking to others or ignoring them, shaking hands or boarding a bus. Unsurprisingly, as soon as acquaintances learned of his ability, they were desperate to compare the young man’s evaluation of their nature with whatever they secretly suspected. After one too many awkward encounters, he resolved to conceal this problematic gift. Nonetheless, the self-conscious but observant caught the flicker of recognition in his gaze. The most persistent would not rest until he rendered his verdict. Those who discovered their inner angel fell in love with him, while those with dark cores sought his demise. The only soul the young man never plumbed was his own. Over the years, this blind spot raised the most excruciating doubts — as to his own virtue and, worse, as to that of his Maker, whom he suspected of reveling in the black hearts of the no-longer-young man’s enemies, for finally maneuvering him into their ranks.
Susan Lewis lives in New York City and edits Posit. She is the author of This Visit (BlazeVOX [books], forthcoming 2014), How to Be Another (Červená Barva Press, 2014), State of the Union (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2014), and five other collections of poetry.