Plain China

The Lost Language of Longing, or Two Women Walk into a Bar

by Hannah Aizenman · University of Pittsburgh · Honorable Mention in Poetry
My X is an Ape, Lauren West · UCLA

Two women walk into a bar; they are Lilith and Lot’s wife

         and they are lonesome tonight.

     You are Lot’s wife

and you are still looking back. I have no home, you say

     to the naked woman beside you. You can’t help but

          let your eyes linger on her bare breasts. In recent years,

     you have felt the erosion of your own body:

     you have felt geological, ankles grown into the earth,

standing solemn as the ocean and the wind move around you.

          Your body is your home and you wish that you could leave it.

Once you might have worn your desire like a dress—once you might

     have tempted, had wings, a one-night stand.

          The thing falls apart.

     The woman next to you says nothing because you

say nothing: you do not say I have no home

          but inscribe it on her forehead,

     let it belong to her.

          Now you can look at her and call her your reflection; now,

     you can look at her and call her yourself.

          The thing falls apart. No closure but a question

you do not have the words for; no answer but a late-night and lovesick lament:

          if only,

     if only,

if only.

 

Two women in a bar and you are Lilith this time. You are here in this bar and it might as well be anywhere else

     except this woman beside you keeps staring at your tits.

          Her eyes are glassy with liquor and sadness and

     she’s somebody’s wife—

or perhaps a divorcée; it doesn’t really make a difference.

          She wants you to possess her, to crawl beneath her skin;

     she imagines you avian, reptilian, angelic—you’ve seen it all before

and it’s never a surprise. The thing with this woman is she compels you

          to confess—you want to tell her:

I am the serpent and also the fruit,

     I am Eden and also the act of casting out.

          I am made from the same earth as Adam.

          I have always wondered where I became what I am.

It’s possible this woman was beautiful once. You are thankful for time, for your own naked body—when faced

     with real beauty, or what might have been beauty, you can always

          dismantle it, always say no.

You have nowhere to go, but women just aren’t your thing—you suspect they want to know you,

     suspect they want to get inside you: they refuse to make you

          demon, which is what you wish you were.

     Not one for sacrifice, you offer up nothing;

          you let her become you, and leave it at that.

 

Lilith and Lot’s wife walk into a bar, and you’re the bartender

     working the last shift. The bar is almost empty—two guys playing pool;

one standing at the jukebox; a sleepy couple at a table in the corner.

          You listen to the conversation these women are not having—

          this intercourse of want and not want, of real and not real.

As you wash out a glass, you are glad of your work,

     of the boyfriend asleep in your bed,

          even the regrettable tattoo on your wrist;

you consider the tragedy of being a myth:

          how easy it is to be forgotten—

     to start out a woman, become something else

          you were never meant to be:

nameless,

     a nightjar,

        a pillar of salt,

           a hypothetical moon.

About the Author

Hannah Aizenman · University of Pittsburgh

Hannah Aizenman hails from Birmingham, Alabama. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in English writing and art history. Now, she waits tables, watches movies, and works on her poetry manuscript, entitled “Anonymous Body.” Hannah’s poem first appeared in Collision.

About the Artist

Lauren West · UCLA

Lauren Lee West majors in English literature and dabbles in writing, painting, and animal taming, on occasion. She is currently abroad in the Czech Republic, spending her weekends nomadically wandering through Morocco, where the kittens chase her through the Medina alleys. Her painting first appeared in UCLA’s journal, Westwind.