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by Emilie Menzel

[It is unseemly]


It is unseemly to blow your nose into a tablecloth. If you share a

bed with another man, keep still. If you pass a person pissing, do

not greet him. Never masturbate with your bare hands. Never

expose yourself unless necessary. Refrain from poking your ears

while eating. If you spit, put your foot on the saliva. Do not spit so

far that you have to search for the saliva.


You are exhibiting your body like an arrogant bird, pretending

your wing is broken because something must be broken, your

wing is freshly broken. You are hopping for display, a loon

long-necked, sad and spotted all over. Your little anxious habit,

trying. Your head fully foggy. You are watching

yourself watching. A mere romance of a mannequin. Some social

scavenger, you carver! Some desirable, you carver!


Tall fishes in black dress. Ravens assembled for performative

mourning. You are not supposed to feel so torn. You should be

thankful for your range of human emotion. You should be thankful

for how much you lost in losing one another, how grief-mouthed

and slouching. How ratty at the ears. What’s the right word for

beast when a wolf passes through? What’s the right word for beast

when the mountain passes through? A woman by water with her

foot in dark water. The man a barracuda, she put him in braces.

The bite in the bite and the matter of whom.


Is love real even when imagined? Is love enough when only

imagined? I am the boy who still breastfeeds in shame. I am all of

my children who will never be born. I step on my violin, show up

to rehearsal unprepared, perform the solo in wavering wilted tones.

I do not want to have given you this gift, this wealth of

bereavement. But I carry this with me. Every day I carry this. How

you knew I was a stone who could be surrounded, how you curled

my own body like a favorite grey mountain, how you crooned for

me only like a snowy white owl. You were keeping me broken,

you wanted me broken, you kept me broken to keep me here, and I

performed. I folded with acrobatics and love for my audience. I

convinced myself, because I so wanted to be loved, to be loveable,

to be loved.


And the day begins with feeling this lonely, with trying to make

the sense pathological to remove my own culpability. I have been

complicit with loneliness, slanted planes of light, a constant

approach and readjustment of form. Do I feel lonely or do I feel

pressured? Shaken face if I stay on my own. There’s too much

light in this room. There’s too much hurt in this room. These

rooms now pull me open, carve my face with butter knives, with

trees, keep me a soldier for a long long time.


Fistfuls of skin, unrobe the hood. You kick at me 

your own dark eyes. Sometimes it is easiest to stuff my hands in my ears.

Sometimes it is easiest to cut off my ears. Sometimes it is easiest to

ignore my ears. But here you are — perform. I knew what is it to

hold the edge of another’s soft cheek, to find another thumb near to

mine. We moved in a wildness of skin with your curled hair in my

curled fist, the snarling animal a hand that lifted me and left.


*Poet’s Note: Stanza one is a compilation of adapted quotes from Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process.

Emilie Menzel is a poet and writer whose work seeks to engage both creative and analytical properties of language. Her words have recently appeared in Black Warrior Review: Boyfriend Village, Trestle Ties, and on the sides of Boston’s T-cars, amongst other locations. Emilie is the recipient of the Deborah Slosberg Memorial Award in Poetry (selected by Diana Khoi Nguyen) and the Cara Parravani Memorial Award in Fiction (selected by Leigh Newman). She completed her MFA in poetry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Raised amongst the doldrums of Georgia summers, Emilie currently lives in wooded North Carolina and online @emilieideas.