State of the State by JoAnna Novak

Girls stay invisible says the woman 
I could become if I never left 
Massachusetts and let myself long 
for pleasure, get planted in the ground, 
crest my crown off the coast, ride 
all the swans in common. Say mute 
in New York, invasive in Manhattan, 
cygnet by my favorite Russian’s tongue. 
My Russian is no woman, but yes 
pleasure, he who—listen some, in St. 
Petersburg I could’ve been: small, very 
flou kind of girl, pretty little photism, so 
and so: his palpable girl grown on 
words, light-papered walls, fluttering for the 
moths. I am many mouths and 
months away from being someone’s 
bag. I never needed a feeding 
tube in Massachusetts, nor, for that 
matter, did I require nutrients in Illinois 
or Missouri. Florida, though: glimpse 
through the mist my anklets (tendons), 
bracelets (cicatrix), coccyx (bruised), 
soul-weather (vitreous, smashed, delete). 
Were you in Florida, woman? Did 
I meet a Disney man, too? Fourteen, 
eighteen, seventy-two: I charmed the guards, 
licked their flavored tattoos. Pleasure, 
we argue, starts with night-Grammy’s 
or soft truffled cheese, a slideshow of 
cheagles and porgis: other hybrid 
dogs. The DNA test is a clickable 
truth. The woman is a cluck away 
from her soft-cornered hen house. 
And the man is seventy-eight, eighty- 
one, four or seven, charting his 
stabby afterimage in Montana, 
California, Orlando, Massachusetts: 
we argue about Othello and Iago, 
bad hair and grainy lost time, in- 
visible girl: I know what I see. Scene 
where I am only you. Call 
woman—brazen, brackish, back 
watered, not the one I pay to see, 
woman with scattered scabs who feeds 
me carved smiles and nod after nod 
as I search my week for some 
state or another that would benefit 
from garbled recreate: it was like 
this and I cried that, which was 
one way to call my wolf a sheep: 
march into the woods and unclip 
that leash. Do we have anything 
else in Massachusetts, viscid 
state to which I’m stuck? We have 
witches in Massachusetts and good 
schools in Salem. Classroom swath 
of Massachusetts. Strong maple 
smoke curling from the woodshed 
called Massachusetts: primers and 
grammars and crooks. I thought 
I had missed all my country; hadn’t 
my girl gone untook? Oh they spelled 
me by the throat, tunnel red-swabbed 
and stung. Spit, spit, spit. They 
knew me by the hole, the crook 
in my door. The nose in the crack: 
dog again, hungry for dust called joy. 
I confess I do not believe my dog; 
there’s a little girl inside her, 
invisible but for her wet eyes. Crumbs 
of people sleep in her fur, the 
animal from my natural state, she 
from the cramped up city, east of 
Mississippi. From the backseat she’s 
sniffed Connecticut, New York, 
Minnesota, Vermont. She is not at all 
large, not very, not tall. Twelve girls 
over state lines—New Hampshire—dark 
taxes, shotgun booze, skimpy 
women—and woof, she eats yams 
to care not when I sob, she tucks in her 
ball. Massachusetts, Massachusetts, 
who was I in Missouri, unleashed 
on casinos and confluences, ready to 
get in any guy’s boat. Drop and push 
twenty, thirty, forty, five. Knees 
in the air, triceps wide. Triangle, clap, 
flush, fold. We steered Wednesday 
upstream, ate afternoon sun one Thursday, 
braced my neck for donuts one 
bent-over morning. Was I the girl 
inside of myself? I remembered 
Canada, Vancouver—what do they 
call a state in Canada? What do 
they name a scene, a mood, a fidget, 
a flight? Six hours, three snacks, 
several sideways looks. I needed 
tennis courts across the city, raw 
vistas and fish on the second floor 
next to the French president. Pass 
me the ha-ha, bridgelet my sorrows. 
Row, row: we paddled into nothing 
and our boat held me down, oar 
slapping fish thinking, sun cresting, 
coast, coast, splashed throat: I 
could’ve drowned my good 
hopes. One man took me to my 
first orchard and fed my neck, 
red lips, apple throat: Pink Lady, 
Sweet Sixteen, American Gala 
Beauty Crisp. They make these 
in Minnesota, he said, which meant 
at a lab in the U. An apple is a 
boat, hollowed out for peanut butter, 
raisins; an apple star stamped on 
your palm keeping you in the club 
(I am always hungry), pared 
into eight or twelve (wanting), twenty 
-four, forty-two, depending on your state. 
An orange was snack. The men 
smuggled more: cigarettes and chalk 
for us to trace our bodies on 
concrete. Crush my head, said the 
skinnies dribbling, afraid of their women, 
escaped from their tall Russian men. 
We would’ve chosen basement life, 
state of mold, better invisible stars: 
flush with the ceiling, albino by day.