Cheryl Caesar


The left leg of my capital “N” sickles in,
leaning against the right. The tail
of the lower-case “y” deflates,
like a sad balloon. I blame myself.

I remember a headhunter’s graphologist in France
declared my handwriting “lacked confidence.”
Olivetti removed me from their hiring shortlist.
My confidence deflated further.

I remember an elementary teacher
made me copy pages full of letters.
At the top he’d put “D.O.” for “Do Over.”
Over and over. Very occasionally,
he’d put “O.K.” When my hand cramped up,
he denounced the letters as “shaky.”
All I took from fifth grade
was my silent hatred of him.

I remember an online poetry forum
where the overlords would command,
“Read a thousand poems before you try
to write another one.” Advice as worthless
as Bart Simpson sentences on a blackboard.

It’s a betrayal, and I think it is a sin:
to take the vulnerable and the striving
and deflate them just to show your power.

It’s like watching someone, waiting
to catch them biting their nails,
then calling them out: “Why do you still
bite them, when I am here to remind you?”

I bite myself like an animal in a trap.
It may take fifty years, but I will write
“N.O.” at the top of the paper.
I will fill my lungs and my letters with air.
If you come to interfere, I will show you my teeth.

Cheryl Caesar lived in Paris, Tuscany and Sligo for 25 years; she earned her doctorate in comparative literature at the Sorbonne and taught literature and phonetics. She now teaches writing at Michigan State University. She gives poetry readings locally and serves on the board of the Lansing Poetry Club. Last year she published over a hundred poems in the U.S., Germany, India, Bangladesh, Yemen and Zimbabwe, and won third prize in the Singapore Poetry Contest for her poem on global warming. Her chapbook Flatman: Poems of Protest in the Trump Era is now available from Amazon and Goodreads.

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