The word is the making of the world.
It’s a filmstrip afternoon
and we’re all grateful
to the humming projector
in the middle of our desks,
the closed blinds, the absence of a real adult.
There’s a vague promise of revelation
from the title
and the dark, tree-lined streets, the voice
calling from a house
carrying within it our freedom not to answer.
Inside another house, a little girl in a pretty dress
is falling asleep
at her father’s desk, turning into
Alice in Wonderland
as her mind falls down the rabbit holes of grammar.
The Madhatter and Jabberwocky
tell her to lure
the letters into a trap so they can beat them
to death with mallets.
We’d like to see that. Without words
no one could tell us what to do.
We know grammar is just a byproduct,
like schizophrenia, of a brain that grew
too fast for its own good
and that history is a series of conspiracies
by accidental despots. Mrs. Bradford is
falling asleep on the wide window ledge,
her blue polyester pants gapped
to reveal her white socks
and pink spotted shins. We try not to look.
RITA MAE REESE has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Stegner fellowship, and a “Discovery”/The Nation award. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared or is forthcoming in journals and anthologies including The Normal School, Imaginative Writing, From Where You Dream, Blackbird, New England Review, The Southern Review, and The Nation. “The Alphabet Conspiracy” was a runner-up in Sycamore Review’s 2009 Wabash Prize for Poetry, judged by Mark Doty.