The Reversal

Leila Chatti

A man who tries very hard to love me convinces meto leave, for the first timein days, my bed—to go outsideto see the frozen lake. And, despite the grandeur of the vast whitefield, and the novelty of boys walking across itlike novice deities, I am most interestedin the geese. Look at themsleeping, I say, noddingto where they rest in a line along the edge of the ice, where the ice isturning back into waterin imperceptible degrees, the heady blueencroaching. And I, stilladdled by grief, still immoderately exhausted by beingalive, consider (who knows whymy mind does anything it does) how the world could beflipped—blue lake for bluesky, birds and featheredhunks of ice like clouds—and I think then, naturally, of myselfin this reversal, standingsuddenly atop the firmament,one of heaven’s citizens, perhaps now an angel, perhaps someonewaiting in the long queueto be seen. And I consider what this would meanfor me, my options. Once, someonewho loved me fiercely fiercelysaid the deadhave no options, Leila, they’re dead! And the angels do nothingbut God’s will, loitering in the interminable meantimeuseless as pigeons.Here, the geese sleep at the edgeof the thaw, unbothered. And winterand the boys forge ahead. And the man goes onloving me, in the periphery. So I right the earth. I stay thereas long as I can bear, looking at it.

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Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet and author of Deluge (Copper Canyon Press, 2020), winner of the 2021 Levis Reading Prize, the 2021 Luschei Prize for African Poetry, and longlisted for the 2021 PEN Open Book Award, and multiple chapbooks. Her honors include the Pushcart Prize, grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and Cleveland State University, where she was the inaugural Anisfield-Wolf Fellow in Publishing and Writing. Her poems appear in The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The Atlantic, POETRY, and elsewhere. She lives and writes in the Midwest.

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