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The Ventriloquist's Soul

                                    Stephen Lackaye


The summer after my father died,
my uncle went from sleeping on the couch
to sleeping with my mother in her bed.
I spent nights choking on humidity and dust
in the attic, sifting through the old man’s bygones.

In one steamer trunk, lashed with broken iron
bands, I dove through ladies’ odd scarves,
silk gloves and hose, half a tiara, a corset
I passed expressly by, digging for the bottom,
as if I’d reason to suspect what lay beneath

the decorations: a squat, black box of petrified wood,
scored all over, only the breadth of a gall bladder,
the impossible weight of a young tiger.
And it may have been the soul of a ventriloquist,
for all I know, or an early Egyptian device

for sound recording, the cylinder inside it perfectly
unbalanced, constantly rolling toward gravity. It spoke,
to me, the distant words “Leave him be . . . When the time
is right . . . Let him go . . .” I pressed it up close to my ear,
listening past my pulse for each faint word,

held it there through the tinny groans of strain,
the noises I later came to realize were the noises
of my mother and uncle beneath the floor: roiling
springs and voices distorted, deepened by the preciousness
of breath, the cursing I’d never call cursing again.

Unsure of what to do next, I lay down upon it,
and slept through an entire season,
positive that, deep inside, there were explanations
or a voice I’d recognize, something
to precede me into the world I must approach.


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