Anna McCarthy

Two Sestinas


I can’t remember what I ate
on my last day at the organization.
Before you go let me pick your brain
my boss had said, then oh dear
as I started to cry. At a minimum
you expect your despondency to be a little bit catching.

You’d think it was catching
I described our isolated table, how she ate
the bare minimum.
She had been so loyal to the organization.
She’s a funny old dear
You said, as if there was something wrong with her brain.

They say she’s the one with the brain.
He knows it, too. You can hear his voice catching.
What did it say in The Times, dear?
It said what I ate.
And it said something about your plan for a re-organization.
Can we please keep the shoptalk to a minimum?

There’s a cover charge, but no minimum.
The lady drinks for free. (Until she’s out of her brain.)
Look, there’s help for you, there’s an organization.
I’m okay. I’m pitching, as the Yanks say, not catching.
Tell me when you last ate.
This morning. I bought three oranges. Shockingly dear.

Yes, my sweet? My tiny Madonna, my mini-mum?
I can’t wait to show you where we ate.
Just let me calm my brain.
Can’t think these days. The flame’s not catching.
Nonsense, my dear. It’s just a matter of organization.

I won’t say too much about my organization,
except that it represents a cause I hold dear,
and that I believe generosity is catching.
You can give the very minimum.
There’s just so little data on the hominid brain.
We don’t even know if early man tasted what he ate.

Don’t trust an organization, and always risk the minimum,
my dear. Use your brain.
That’s it. You’re catching on. It’s time we ate.


The watch that circles your wrist,
he said with such simplicity,
can be deadly as a missile,
when put to proper use.

He should know. He’s the champion.
Nothing except his uniform needs altering.

Although his uniform needs altering,
still he salutes with starched wrist.
Still, he declares himself your champion.
He sees the world with such simplicity.
It’s not a talent he can use,
It can’t be turned into a missile.

Someone spots a turning missile.
Hey, look, it’s altering
its course!
Oh shit. Artillery’s no use.
Should I slit my wrist?
I wanted to live a life of simplicity.
I did not choose to be a champion.

I do not choose to be a champion.
But I throw a dart like a missile.
I do it with such simplicity.
Never faltering, never altering
my stance. Yes, it’s all in the wrist,
and in putting the brain to proper use.

Gentlemen, if put to proper use,
Your tongue is your champion.
Your mouth is the wrist
that launches the missile.
Its path never altering.
A parabola of simplicity.

A parabola of simplicity?
That’s the kind of language you use?
Have you ingested some kind of perception altering hallucinogen, a funny champignon?
Imagine the flight path of a nuclear missile
and with your hand mimic it, wobbling at the wrist.

Simplicity is a brand. So is Champion.
What’s the use of firing on a missile,
when all you’re altering is the angle of God’s wrist?

Anna McCarthy co-edits the journal Social Text and is the author of the books Ambient Television (2001) and The Citizen Machine (2010).
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