She was a funny girl, Denise. People all over the world, she used to say, like it when you smile and laugh. And she tried to keep them laughing through their empty temples.
When I first met her she’d returned from the gulf, and she had a bloody face. She’d been punched by a fellow journalist, she said, because she’d told him a bad joke, or a joke that didn’t turn out to be funny. She didn’t know which.
I’d met her when I overheard her talk about poetry. I suppose if you’re a poet, you should like poetry, but not all poets do, according to my wife. In fact, she says very few people actually like poetry in an honest enough way to admit it in public, let alone in a metal storage container stuffed with journalists, human rights workers and enough water to last us three days. So when I heard Denise mention poetry, I made my way over.
“My wife likes poetry,” I said and immediately felt stupid.
“Oh yeah. Do you?” Denise asked.
“Not really,” I said. “I don’t get it. But like I said, my wife likes poetry. She’s a poet.”
“Good for you?”
“Yeah, I guess, thanks? I don’t know. You a poet?” I asked.
“Oh, but you like poetry.”
“You got it.”
“Why are you talking to me?”
“Because I’m really scared,” I said, tried to make it sound like a joke, but it didn’t come off that way. “And I feel deep guilt about my dislike of poetry.”
“I could punch you,” Denise said. “That would give you something to focus on.” But she didn’t punch me. That was eleven years ago.
And now I was looking down at my wife’s first book of poetry. It was a long time coming. “It’s time to make some money with this baby!” she said.
“Can you actually do that?” I asked her. I had no idea, but it sounded good to me.
“No,” my wife said, “you can’t.”
“But you can send it to all your friends who like poetry.” Sometimes I can’t tell when my wife is joking. I didn’t have any friends, and none of my non-friends liked poetry, but then I remembered Denise. I tracked down an address in Venezuela from a recent editor.
I sent her the book. It came back to me six months later with a note. “I’m sorry to tell you Denise was killed accidentally in a skirmish during a government protest. We held a memorial service and we read some of these poems. Thank you.”
I showed the note to my wife. She cried. “That’s the best thing I’ll ever do,” she said.
Jefferson Navicky is the author of The Book of Transparencies (forthcoming KERNPUNKT Press), The Paper Coast (Spuyten Duyvil), and the chapbooks Uses of a Library (Ravenna Press) and Map of the Second Person (Black Lodge Press). His work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Electric Literature, Hobart, Tarpaulin Sky, and Fairy Tale Review. He is the archivist for the Maine Women Writers Collection, and teaches English at Southern Maine Community College. Jefferson lives in Freeport, Maine with his wife, Sarah, and their puppy, Olive.