Paula Cisewski

The Becoming Game

A loon I can see calls to more loons
I can’t. I dip my toe in the water.
I do not walk on the water.

I do not walk away from the shore.
Everywhere, something ecstatic
seems to be beginning, just a bright

feeling in the air I’m not sure I am
invited to. Usually I’m in a city. I mean
usually I’m in a house in a city writing

the poems of an inside person who
frequents the insides of schools and museums,
a little pet-like it now seems to me. Where

the forest meets the shore, some mushrooms
have muscled their way up into being
part of the understory overnight.

Maybe it’s not crucial you know this
about me but when I was a kid who
couldn’t sleep, I played this game called

“becoming.” Panther, egret, rhino, shrew:
I shifted my bones around, growing new
ones where necessary, sprouting feathers

or hooves, whiskers or tusks. Are there people
who don’t need to know how it feels to be every
living thing? When you’re a woman, people will

say things to you like “Lean in!” or “Think more
like a dude!” and it reminds me I never once
as a child in the dark attempted to “become”

a financially secure grown human being.
This luna moth caterpillar inches its way
along the path I’ll follow home. It’s fat, nearly

translucent, which means it’s ready
to crawl up in a tree and chrysalis. Exactly
the kind of small thrill I won’t usually

seek. My instinct is to take it off this beach
which I don’t. The patient water all around
and somehow the loon I could see is gone. No

loons and no hoot and no wail and no yodel
and no tremolo. They found each other, I’m
going to assume the silence means.

I will begin by mentioning the word “Surrender”

I arrived at John Berryman’s
grave: a stranger

paying homage. But to a man’s words
or to a man? His marker in the grass

hard to find and unremarkable.
Consider Berryman’s verses

versus Berryman’s broken
ego slurring Henry this Henry that

in grayscale on YouTube. Oh yes.
I’ve had to give up somewhat here

wrote the man. Metamorphosed,
no song dreaming. I knelt, and on

large paper, made a charcoal
rubbing of the poet’s stone.

Since every live thing hungers
for a possessed beauty, my share

of which I never want to spill, I once
stitched cups to my sleeves. Nothing

clever to say about that. Then graveside,
these next things happened: A coyote

emerged from the hedgerow and loped
across the graveyard at the very moment

a bluebird lighted in a branch above
my head. Once, I read a fairy story

by this young girl who opened with
the phrase, Once a pond of time.

Once a pond of time! I watched
the coyote leave and listened to the bird

sing, and as much as I suddenly knew,
and how part of the fabric I felt,

it still took me two more years
to quit drinking completely.

Esprit D’escalier is the term for
when the perfect thing you

should have said occurs to you
moments too late, once you’ve left

the person whom your wit
would’ve shriveled. What’s

a term for the perfect thing you
should have said to yourself? What

a perfectly dead souvenir. Still,
that girl’s perfectly mistaken

phrase exists, and so, inside it
I am nearly reborn with joy.

Notes toward Homecoming

What does lost mean in this context? The displaced past of a less-so world?
Or when I won’t write at a sentence I don’t want said, groping around
In the dry of a dark spell and woops get turned around to meet the gaze

of The Griever? O nostalgia, my half-finished manual of style.
Felt a kindness bubbling up for someone (myself) who’d belittle it, guaranteed.

“Projections change the world into the replica of one’s unknown face,”
said Carl Jung. Fine, Carl Jung! The Griever’s eyes are something like mine soon.
I finally wrote my unspoken sentence, looked at it, looked at it

longer, burned it, looked at it burning, smelled the overdue smoke of its
going from me, and it’s gone, hushing me: a fled burrow, finally.

Paula Cisewski’s fourth poetry collection, Quitter, won the Diode Editions Book Prize. She is also the author of The Threatened Everything, Ghost Fargo (Nightboat Poetry Prize winner, selected by Franz Wright), Upon Arrival, and several chapbooks, including the lyric prose Misplaced Sinister. She lives in Minneapolis, where she teaches, collaborates with fellow artists and activists, and serves on the editorial staff of Conduit.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis ( is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit ( and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.