Choose Your Own Adventure

Laura Marris


You’re the star of the story.

These pilasters, these tiger rugs,
they belong to you, and the sickness
inside of your ___________
will be cured.

The king has had a son. No,
it’s the king’s birthday, and all the prisoners
will be released.

Do you want them released
from their bodies?

The magpies take __________
to their nests. There are spoons in the trees at evening,
small flashes that look like leaves.

You can run away with the king
or play chess with the daughter.

Take the exile’s road through the marshes.
There’s a spring there, deep,
and yellow with sulfur. If the fumes
turn the crown black, you can soak it in vinegar.
Would you like to fall in love?

The bones in the cliff wall
are mastodon tusks. Skin stretched tight
over your faces, neither of you has eaten,
and his lips are swollen with thirst.

When he comes back to bed with cold hands
he warms them on your skin. Ach, ach say the magpies,
burdened with silver. Thief, thief.
Come out of the marshes or die. Search the streets
of the portside city for a little room over the bakery.


The daughter’s hair brushes the chess pieces
when it’s her turn.
She’s not a great player—quickly, her king is lying down.

She wants to learn to dance, no, she’s bored
of dancing. Her little white sneakers
leave scuff marks on the rug.

She strokes the pile back into place as she looks at you
and you kiss her or leave the room.


How awful is the sound of the fisher cat
slipping all night through the reeds?

A man I loved tied a tarp over the well
and staked it, something heavier than a hand in his palm.


The daughter’s hair is soft when you touch it. It’s sad,
you think, that she can be both beautiful and boring.
Couldn’t they have given her better words to say?

If you wish to stay, you must pass a test.
Four steps from the oak
a trapdoor carved into the ground.
Underneath you must fight _________ to the death—
are you willing to die for love?

All the roads are strings, pressed into the marshes.
The gypsy wind blows through the gate,
bringing the calls of children,
the sounds of the carousel.


It’s not a trapdoor really, but a grate.
Between the metal bars, two eyes watch you fumble
with the lock. Ach, ach, say the magpies,
beginner, beginner.

The monster wraps his claws around the bars,
pulling them shut.


The devil’s gonna get you—Bessie Smith, sung
through the corner of a mouth.

Dance steps practiced in the dark
before coming to bed
stay in the muscles of the feet
with no one seeing.

don’t want no two-time stuff, anything but the rattle
of the straw in the drink in his white shirt pocket.


This time, the monster becomes a man.
In the front of his helmet:
a mirror. Would you like to lay down your weapon?

On your pyre,
pine logs full of sap. They spark when lit,
smoking over the sea and the ship that launches
you on the dark water.

No no no, he says,
not another reader.


Dispassionate oyster eaters, broken
shells of slick
mother of ________ and calcite. White wine
tastes like minerals and grass.
These dark, waxy leaves
are what, my love?

The smell of eucalyptus.
Two cups of juice, two cups of coffee.

A kneeling man is a frightening kind—
across the water,
the city lights edge up the hills.
In the mermaid store—a gallery?—
the nurse mermaid wears a sequined cap
drinks a martini.

Out of the dark the waves roll
through humid chambers of the caves
shaped by erosion—


You have killed the monster,
you must marry the girl. It’s
a short engagement, two feasts,
a festival.


Is this everything you wanted?
Yes, you say, to the lifted veil.