"A Different Story" ~ Denise Duhamel ~ from APR

A Different Story

The day after I’d written a poem about her,
my new friend asks if I sometimes steal stories
from other people’s lives. She doesn’t know
many poets, but she once met a woman
who wrote self-help books about dating.
We’re at a diner, where great stories
are often exchanged. The writer utilized
my new friend’s tale of woe but made it even worse,
more embarrassing than it actually was.
I say writers are always stealing, we can’t
help ourselves, and she says she understands
though it gives her the creeps. I don’t confess
my own theft but instead tell her about a poet
whose ex writes thrillers. One of his recent characters
has her name, her physical traits, and her most
unflattering of habits. Worst of all, the character
is stabbed to death in the final chapter.
Writers must have a lot of issues, my new friend says, lifting
the limp pickles off the pale inside of her hamburger bun.
We both fall silent. She eyes me suspiciously
as she salts her fries. I stop asking her about her past,
about her day, fearing she’ll tell me something so good
I’ll be tempted to take it for another poem. Our diet cokes
are almost drained when she wonders if the poet,
having suffered her own fictional fatality,
has changed her ways, has stopped using her friends
as subject matter. Imagine how you’d feel
if someone recreated your life and it wasn’t very pretty.
I start to write the poem in my head, the one
describing my blubber, my crowded teeth, my penchant
for gossip, the smell of my feet after a long day
in plastic sandals. My character is cheap,
fearful, controlling, duplicitous, a dunce.
Want to split a slice of pie? I think she says,
but I am already slapping a twenty
on the Formica table, sliding out of the booth.
I have to get it all down before someone else does.

by Denise Duhamel
(borrowed from APR)

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