3rd Annual Contest Finalist
If You Could Be Anybody, Who Would You Be?
And that’s when she gave him her answer: Hapshepsut, the only female pharaoh, who by the luck of her father’s early death managed to rule for twenty-two years. Or else, if not her, then the last person who died with the secret recipe for embalming bodies, which wine, which incense, when resin, when honey, when rubbing with grease, which thorny tree of the Borage. That’s when she gave him or maybe Thomas Edison on the day he invented the phonograph—telegraph tape, set at high speed, emitting human speech. Paper speaking! Carbonate, bicarbonate, chloride, sodium sulfite, who knows what else. Traveled to distant lands for their henna and ochre. That’s when she fessed up: Tanya Harding and Olga Korbut. Also, Nadia Comeneci the day she received that perfect score. Also, she told him, Botticelli’s Venus. Does it have to be a person, she asked, or could she be the pink shell? The creamy cockatiel, the yellow dewlap of the dewlapped lapwing? The emu settling down, in the dirt path, for a late-morning nap? In that case, she said, I’ll be the light breeze, the glass of wine sweating in the late-June air; actually, make that the 638 wineries of Washington State, every one of Klickitat County’s turbines slicing the wind through the cottony gospel of cottonwood fluff. But she wasn’t only Washington State; she was also a beaver’s persistent teeth. Gold, silver, bronze; floor, bars, or beam: who even remembers, and anyway she’d rather be the chalk dust lifting after the champion lifts her hand to signal she’s ready to vault. Or the moss between the patio bricks; a moose, an alpha wolf, a stealth. Nothing camouflaged, nothing too outrageously flamboyant, nothing requiring slaughter or stench. I’ve decided, she said, and that’s when she gave him that impossibly loose-lipped flower, white destined to dirty brown, to flop on the ground for the girls to load their buckets for petal soup, cuz who’d give a camellia less than a ten, who’d reject a blossom, though why hadn’t she answered nobody but nobody else, because really she loved her own aorta, her own prismatic ulnas, was most content in her own cage, with the twenty-six bones of her own foot. Not platypoid, not tarantula-ized, just a gal sporting a gray-edged halo, just a smidgen spooked by King Tut’s bulbous belly, his knocking knees, his ghostly glowing teeth.
God in Utah
with apologies to Barbara Ras
As we gossiped at the hotel bar about ex-es and trances, lechers and facelifts, God in the oil, bathing with the lightly- breaded scallops, God resting on the bed of squash risotto; God making sure the mushrooms on our plates didn’t kill us. As we debated coffee or no, God hovered between Hank and his nametag as he described the peanut brittle compote. After we laid down our napkins, after we downed the last drops of Pinot Grigio, God followed me to the ladies, to a back room where the good people of Salt Lake knocked back Manhattans, obedient souls in crisp white collars, sensible oxfords. And God was in the dark where the TV blared through the wall behind the bed, where the moment the music crescendo-ed and the credits rolled, a throbbing toe woke me; God in my left toe, God in the purple pillbox, God in the ibuprofen that relieved me. I spied God the next morning in Nikki’s nostrils, in Keegan’s fading acne, tasted God in my breakfast burrito, extra chili on the side. On the tour of Temple Square, God cracking up outside the tabernacle, in stitches over the secret handshakes, especially the Patriarchal Grip, God in his grandeur guffawing over barring from worship the un- recommended. God defiantly breaking the rule against unbridled laughter. God floating from garment to garment, especially those escaping their clotheslines, drifting over rooftops, finding safe harbor in a sweet gum or maple. God soaring over the visitor center in the form of a falcon, but though a glossy pamphlet suggested I reflect on the majesty of His creations as I stood beneath the star-studded dome, the outstretched arms of an eleven-foot savior, God could not be detected in the sound-muffling, dull-beige carpet. God in the breezes from People’s Freeway to Liberty Wells, God in the stratification, all the way down to the very bottom, two billion year’s worth of sandstone, limestone, shale; God in the volcanoes gracing that geologic layer cake with an ashy frosting; God in the 85% who live within fifteen miles of the Wasatch Mountains; God in those who do not; God in the rhyolite, in the granite; God in the brachiopods and the triops, in the millions of tons of monzonite quartz hauled from a glacial trough in Little Cottonwood Canyon, where God hangs out with the one-head sunflower, the everywhere aster.
Martha Silano is author of What the Truth Tastes Like, Blue Positive, and The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, winner of the 2010 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, an Academy of American Poets Noted Book of 2011, and a Washington State Book Award finalist. She teaches at Bellevue College.
Egyptian heiroglyphics photo courtesy Shutterstock.