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  • Four Games Played While Riding the Bus, and: Frames, and: Kansas City, and: The Heartland, and: Bay Window, with Divorce and Pigeon
  • Alexandra Teague (bio)

“I wrote ‘Kansas City’ in Oakland, California, years after the winter that is also described in ‘The Heartland.’ A restaurant with ‘ostentatious jazz’ triggered everything else, including the Chinese acrobat, whom I had tried several times unsuccessfully to write as his own poem. I’m always surprised and fascinated when a character or image I’ve been carrying around suddenly wanders into an entirely new context and seems at home.

“In Mortal Geography, a manuscript that has been evolving for more than ten years and across five states, displacement and place recur and reconfigure. I don’t think of the poems as maps so much as acts of reckoning—navigations of loss, of language itself, of love and other sad and often absurdly humorous human geographies. As the poems here suggest, these themes find me everywhere, from a San Francisco bus to a third-story, glass-strewn living room.

“The true event behind ‘Bay Window, with Divorce and Pigeon’ seemed so much like an intentional metaphor that I had decided it couldn’t be a poem, but it became one anyway. I’d intended ‘Frames’ to be part of a series about paintings and fires, but as with many of my poems the form became a force, moving amid other stories.”

  • Four Games Played While Riding the Bus
  • Alexandra Teague


The couple across the aisle is playing Rock, Paper, Scissors. Over and over their hands touch. Under and over, and Rock is always beaten by Paper’s soft drapery, though Rock’s crushing of Scissors has more military pomp, and Scissors are always a cut above Paper. The elegance of childhood rules defining nature. Amazing, I think, not that adults would play, but that the game has brought into the rush-hour fray this tacit silence: each one deciding only as they move the shapes their own fists guard. With each smooth sleight of hand, they’re turning It’s better like this;it’s not. Let’s don’t. Let’s do. My love, I know your tricks;You never will. . . . into swift One, Two, Three. Each turn risking strength exposed as vulnerability.


The French-Algerian self-proclaimed genius painter in a scarf and burgundy fedora on the hottest October evening this San Francisco reasons, But I’m not wearingany socks or underwear, and he shows us by baring his ankles, adding, six pieces, counting my shoes. After the quiet minute in which we each, impromptu, tally, one friend says seven, another five, and I, blushing, four, and just like that—fully dressed—lose. The evening is down to hairpins of light outside the bus windows, the plastic seats smooth as skin, and in the seconds that follow this shared revelation, we ride silently toward the dark as though we have found a new, more serious art: not to paint the town, but to watch it, hour by hour, strip, each loss wagered on this companionship. [End Page 126]


Maybe Alzheimer’s is angelic possession, the mind’s repetitive wings beating sense for all it’s worth. God-damn talking bus.God-damn talking bus, says the old man at each announcement. And doesn’t everyone agree, really, though our askance glances impress that calls for silence ought to come in silence? Please vacate front seats for seniors—God-damn talking bus—and the disabled. Each sing-song echo more mechanical, we raise embarrassed newspapers or drink from empty coffee cups. But after he climbs off and the voice goes on, No eating or drinking on Muni, someone says below their breath, Oh, won’t you just shut up?


Near the back of the bus, a man sits down and deals three cards into his lap. One, the king, is marked. He says, These two lose, the king card wins. Thesetwo lose, the king card wins. Not these; the red card.If you got money and you got heart, you can winyourself some money now. With shuffling sleight of hand, he turns them up, but no one...


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