The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2019

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NOV 2019 Issue

An excerpt from SPEECH

Now out from Nightboat

She went out for bread and on her way she walked past the open doors of the auditorium used for bridal gown, gun, and political conventions. She took some steps back and looked inside at floors being mopped in half circles. The mops like long hair sweeping back and forth leaving trails of water fading quickly under the lights.

“No, just looking. Thanks.”

Until a man in a blue uniform closed the doors motioning for her to step back.

At the auditorium tonight the famous leader would speak and on her way back from the task of going out for bread she stopped again. On the other side of the closed doors she listened as he said

“   not separate

     when decency presses

   I am

       what right to live without worry


   for food and for shelter     ”


At the base of society she finds the base of her skull. Her superstructure waits for shifty instrument feedback until a father went refugee status for her to say, “There I can say anything I want. This has weight. Was home”—

His slouching historical back his bones as feathers their secret fissures ask, “Did you know there is an organization determining how free is your country? Check your rating fluxing.”

“Whose country? Which you? Whose heat?”

“Not the refugee with his pants unzipped his pants short. Messy tourist go loud and others stealth. Messy citizen goes loud or who makes themselves small in public space or wanders freely looking up.”

Say hello to the gap in her dictionary a gap in her blouse. To cover this up and stop speaking in such an accent she never learned his tongue. To cover this up his too many arms. All the hands to cover up his gaping accent.


Birds nested on top of the walls dividing those who mostly worked with their hands from those who mostly worked at desks. Divided there and here, West City and East or South, held or contingent. Birds cackling over all of them. She pointed out this bird speech to the elder woman who replied, “Wherever you go the gap is never silent.”

The walls were concrete and thick like stone that might skirt an old city. One night she and others wrote the contents of the report on the walls and everyone read the labor. An attempt at public. A movement toward speech—like warm bread passed from one hand to another and from the walls nothing came back as the words made of chalk began to fade.

The walls were thick and reminded her of the stone walls that might skirt a city, writings etched into them. One night she would go and attempt that very thing hoping the clink of her tools wouldn’t wake up the guards—the workers with passwords to all of the spaces but without citizenship.

One guard who never was able to sleep asked, “what will you write?”

“Quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches on economic justice.”

Turning away with a small shrug he let her.

So she did go and incise the walls with words that had been forgotten. In one version it was a script they could read. In the other version no one heard.

She explained: “He was quoted on racial equality and not about class, the anti-capitalism parts of speech as if separate. Some white radicals dismissed him but he never stopped speaking economic justice never stopped ringing out the possibility—”


What is the code for a small family on a street hovering over a baby without food over the baby’s last bottle? Who is programmed to want and want to see and to see?

She stays with the baby while he goes to find food. Their backpacks snag the screen of pity snag donations that delete barbed wire delete bodies in line.

Who is not pictured who is left behind where the siege follows the edges of buildings. Not running in vectors not the drama of open-air choice. This image of a single file her child following closely behind. Who guides them through waiting at the intersection is a body bent.


She stops and asks for bread from the oven for two coins. Networks melt into the act of placing cool coins into his hand. She barely thanks him. Light blue cuffs frame the contact of coin atop coin and the near contact of two sets of hands passing and receiving a plastic bag filled with warm bread.


Jill Magi

Jill Magi’s sixth book, SPEECH, set in a fictional place sort of like Abu Dhabi and sort of like Chicago, is just out from Nightboat Books.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2019

All Issues