EJ Bowman

How to Hear the Voices

I begin the semester with an odd joke on
Kilgore Trout.
I wear a blue crew neck that reads
my mother is a fish
a litmus test for the uninitiated.
My elbows on the lectern, I ask for book recommendations,
write them shorthand on the board.

I promise to look them up later and follow up.
I want them to know they are heard.
This is why I, thirty-two years old,
a devotee of the Greeks,
am now reading comic books.

Spiderman was my gateway to Nick. We talked through an entire
lunch break linking alternate universes to romantic archetypes.
For Blaire, the way in is paved with Russians.
For Krista, it’s the party boys of the Lost Generation.
For Miguel, it’s Swift.
Ryker? Books-on-tape by Bradbury.

I tell them about the voices
the tones and timbres that built
the scaffold of my inner life.
I tell them how I read Dickinson
until I could taste the shape of her hyphens
in my mouth, metallic;
how Twain and Lewis are my favorite uncles.
The stories I read so early and so often that
I don’t have a conscious memory of their absence.

It’s never a surefire plan.
Three or four every year hold fast,
slouched in their hoodies and perking up only at the
sound of pagan sacrifice in Lord of the Flies.
By then the game is up and I’m exposed.
So are they.

Years later, she’ll text me to ask about Dave Eggers,
or he’ll confess that he cried over George and Lennie.
A music student borrows two commentaries on Hamlet
or scribbles in blocked pencil:
is Holden a sociopath? at measure 18 of Ivan Sings.

Another student voices diminished seventh inversions
while I write just enough about Genesis in bullet points
to get her through East of Eden.
And I wonder how I can trick them any further.

If they can hear the voices.

I have counted and loved them all:
cummings and his polyrhythmic etcetera
the Walden cabin sans doormat.

Sometimes I walk the length of the park with the magnolia trees,
broad and waxy like pastry glassine.
I hear them reciting in my head and wonder
if Pysche and Isolde could meet
and what kind of tea they might drink or
if they’d go straight to the whiskey.
Campbell and Steinbeck are still going
eight rounds over Carol
and Telemachus wonders if he’s finally old enough
for a driver’s license.

They tousle so loudly that when my husband says,
you’re being quiet. What’s the thought?
I don’t know how to say that Atlas is busy rebuilding
the planet he accidentally dropped while
Lysistrata hiked up her skirt
and went on strike.

I am shaped by the stories I inhabit
a dragon named Thou Shalt
and if my soul is really a circle
can I really slay the dark things
and whether a small dark-haired Irish boy
can really find his way to Araby.