Playing the Telephone Game

Esther Lee

For instance, you might have said:When he was leaving the store,it was starting to rain.Or:Winnie was a sleeve torn.It was darting derange.You might have taken (one canplay detective endlessly),a ream of paper and tracedintricate scalloped designsof the living room'ssilver radiator, or the young man,towns away, his face blind-embossed beneath the narrativewe won't let go of.Was it:The grass noddedbeneath the dance.Or:Wrists knottedthese knees and pants.Or, perhaps:Zebras snottedbereaved of ants.No, knocking on wood won'tchange what happens next.Little yellow flags markingtheir dancing footsteps—1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 is wherehis body was found.Nevermind headphones,can of iced tea, lighter,scratched cell phone,or three-leaf cloverwanting to turn four.You might have thought:He was wearing a red sweater.He's swearing ahead weather.He is airing a head feather.He was erring hat fodder.His hearing a hard father.Is searing an old water.Adhere a worn blotter.A year in hot falter.Here in what order.Earring voiceover.Herring half over.Arrow October.Heroine sober.Rigged clover.

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Photo of Esther Lee
Michael Marcinek

Hailing from the American South, Esther Lee now lives and travels on a 35’ sailboat with her husband, Michael, and their cat, Bowie. A Kundiman fellow, she is the author of the chapbook, Blank Missives, (Trafficker Press) and her first poetry collection, Spit, which received the Elixir Press Poetry Prize and nominations for the PEN Open Book Award, Asian American Literary Awards, and Pushcart Prize. Selected by Conduit Books & Ephemera for their Minds on Fire Open Book Prize, her second collection, Sacrificial Metal, was selected for a 2020 Florida Book Award and offers meditations through the lens of dance and human movement about the quiet dignities and alienation of illness, caregiving, and living in a racialized body.

"In Sacrificial Metal, Esther Lee dances with astute curiosity and deep tenderness across the shifting grounds of grief, touch, bearing witness, memory, and our obstinate human instinct for future-planning. With great compassion, Lee's poems remind us that everything human eventually unravels, but her poems remind us too that joy is 'like tragedy, it occurs—undeniably, relentlessly—every day.'"
—Sean Dorsey, choreographer/dancer, writer and trans-justice activist

"I see Sacrificial Metal as a collection of letters to the self as though the self were a familiar stranger who speaks all the same languages, and happens to also be a scientist interested in the nature of time. This is a correspondence in which the world, and a person's understanding of its many forms of data, is rigorously contemplated and recorded."
—Tarfia Faizullah, author of Seam and Registers of Illuminated Villages

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