8 October 2009 | Vol. 9, No. 3

Questions for Emily


Will a boy wake in the night and hear his way out of the dark room into a dark hall, past a painting of a pear too dim to see, like the picture of a sea horse inside a closed book. When he hears his feet on the carpet, will there be carpet? When he hears his father roll over in bed, will his father roll over? What about sleet tapping the window? Will his ears create the snowplow shaking snow from a bush? Or does the plow rev itself into engine?


What should I get for the woman who is disappearing? I want to stop saying "I," but I don't know any other way to say it. How many horses do you hear right now? Is there another way to say that the tribes of grasses are choking the winter? I feel dimmed down. I feel smudged with eraser marks. What am I?


Am I useful? Anything that is really useful has a reason for existence. Second, do I really have beauty of form and line and color? (Texture is not so important.) Or am I merely striking or amusing? Third, am I entirely suitable for the position I occupy? Fourth, if I were eliminated would I be missed? Would someone else look as good, or better, in my place? Or would my place look as good empty? A truthful answer to these questions would at least help in determining my value, since an object that failed in any of them could not be "perfect."


Did you go to the show? Did you clap when everyone clapped? Did you stand very still and let the crowd move your shoulders? Was there a girl way down front who never turned around? Do you remember when standing behind a girl with your arms around her waist had never happened to you before? Was that before you knew about the word juxtaposition? Was that when you played the saxophone? Do you think you can really know someone by the swing of her ponytail? Do you ever write letters to yourself as a boy? Now that you think about it, as a boy, did you ever feel like someone was trying to send you a letter? Was it about Lenny? Was it about the sax?


What is the best way to ask a question. What alone is impolite. Say, "Pardon." Say, "Mam." The British say, "Sorry." Sorry, what is that loon doing in a still life of crickets. What is the glowworm jarred and dimming. What is the column of breath blown into the changing of the season. What is left when the last curtsy changes from a liquid to a vapor. The dew we carry on our skins.


Emily, I am all out of questions, so please just give me a probable answer, like Always go into black (which includes very dark gray mixtures) with a deep black band on the hat, and of course, black ties and socks and shoes and gloves. Tell me something I don't know. Tell me the story of how.

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About the author:

Elizabeth Hughey's first book, Sunday Houses the Sunday House, was published by the University of Iowa Press in 2007. New poems have recently appeared in Caffeine Destiny, Zoland Poetry, Free Verse, and Starting Today: Poems for the first 100 Days in Office. She teaches at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and is a contributing editor at Bateau Press.

For further reading:

See the complete list of work by Elizabeth Hughey at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 9, No. 3, where "Questions for Emily" ran on October 8, 2009. List other work with these same labels: poetry, prose poem.

42opus is an online magazine of the literary arts.

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