Essay Hybrid: “Introduction” by JoAnna Novak

JoAnna Novak


Begin with a lie. Life-
stuck or stasis, miles or
minds: unleash the lies.
Bark them off. Begin un-
urgent, unringed, grub-
nailed and urgey, young
enough to be buyable,
looking on labels.

Once I wended. A to
A; after that—a curvet,
a barreling. Set from
the capital and drove
borders over-fast,
over-hard, o’er the
valley; his old car was
razed, a bothered state
of dust. Mountains
abutted my path and
runaway ramps, rock
jaws, scales of ice,
cows dotting summer-
singed pastures, murine
lumps under tread, red
barns and red leaves
burned by an autumn
sun. Harvest. Time was
every season: one foot
tucked to lap, another
on pedal, a rhythmical
throb in blood. Arteries,
artillery, artless, slattern.
I sped.

What I thought was do
not do not do not do not
do not do not do not do

and proceeded to drink a
lot of rest stop coffee.

Over phone, I promised.
Spring’s grand
backtrack, chirppery and
choice, he had chosen
me, too. O I would bury
my elbows in butter
and fold that nug into
verse; the remaking
hopes never etherize.
Everything felonious was

So all of me went, all
verily in and twice each
week, and soon as snow
dusted the road where
I was going became
difficult to see.

Reflecting night’s sky,
the windshield formed a
darker mirror, positioned
at spit-star slant. I mean,
in there somewhere was
my face.

For what would I do but
get very dirty and very
hot and very uptight
every other night of
the week; nothing was
near me, but checks
and cash. I gloved my
diamond under latex and
sliced and scrubbed and
shucked and shucked.

You might say I was
kitchened. You might
say meat met my grip
and lost. Minding the fry-

It was possible to
be a girl, still, a few
more months, without
advancing into wife. (At
the end of my days, will
I stop examining who I
am and how I’ve been
stationed?) Girlish,
I checked sleep and
houred my nights with
the lead-white blank
of words, every vowel

Direct life was two racks
three tubs downstairs
dry storage cooler 5
how many tables do you
have left should I eat
do you want to smoke?
Give me a light ask him
for ask him why you so
serious pretty girl let me
tell you bout they sex
they touching you see
her hands her pants
wanna go to Zumba
make me a tray

Damn rapping in my
breast. Apple-eating,

What clarity offered
checkered my home,
our home, as I’d moved
into someone’s started
privateer I scolded
myself—and, then, too,
my eyes always prized a
kind of deprivation, the
sallow, slit-eyed sister of

All my library books
(novels, liars) collected
skyscraper fines.
Collection ransoms.

First you stop yourself,
then you tell yourself that
stopping yourself never
works to stopper yourself
so you tell yourself to
postpone the stop until
you are ready, maybe
old, or dying to have
kids …

(At least I waited until
wedding had happened.)

… because stopping
one stop-worthy thing
revolves around
starting another that
will eventually need
summative stopping so
easiest to stick with what
suits you most and 86.
Dive or subsume.

We moved. Now I
was officially half a we,
though of which half I
wanted to be, the better
or the lesser, I have
never been sure.

I lived a normal year with
tacos and and trying
and chatter tittering
in from off the brown
balcony that bunioned
our building. There were
dinners. You might have
seen my mouth, my
eyes, my hair, my face,
my spine: always raw-
boned from the radiator.
Hot and haggard.

Year of coins under
floor cushions in the
sputtering car. Month
of revving and close the
door. Winter of French
wine and wandering
through husheries,
churches, honey. Italian
alpaca, lamb, month of
anything to make me feel
away: oh, anyone could
see I wanted to start

First let me say I have
other things. The
following could’ve been
life or the like. But I
cheat, antsy patsy,
and pumping my arms
and heaving the wind,
I say I want it. Fancify
my infidelity because
my tasks lack temerity.
Let me put my hand in
whatever I want.

That’s one.

But smother myself?
Hen without head.
Admitter. Showy. Blow-
hard. Shouldn’t I have
been more another girl?
Every other girl was.
Well, leaner and lanker
and fairer of bang and
less inclined to want
so much and say so
harsh, arranged and
easy-listening and none
too hectic for hurdles.
Admission: me amongst
others=leaving, sighing,
crying, heaving. Hurts

A poor specimen
propped up by one too
many nice letters. This
is not to spell pained, but
sensate, proper.

“You are just thoroughly
insecure,” said the
doctor, incredulity on a

Or, yes.

Life could be books and
bed, easy comforts.
Ever since I was a child,
sleep has been enemy.

Dream of uxorial
relaxation. Dream of
enough. Nice sounds.
You lost me here. Other
words I must have heard,
but most I forgot.

O self-reliance shadows
Don’t two ends
gather a circle? Savory
biscuit, cookie wreath,
words and words and

What would an upward
chin have offered me?
A strong jaw. I could
blame plain Illinois, the
potato Polish I sputtered
as a sour girl. Said a
senior, “the pageant
sounds fun.” All my life,
fun tasted rank. Perhaps
I could have said less,
grown tits, written a

I did not.

JoAnna Novak is the author of I Must Have You (Skyhorse Publishing, 2017) and Noirmania (forthcoming from Inside the Castle, 2018). She has written for publications including The New York Times, the Washington PostSalonGuernica, and BOMB. She received her MFA in fiction from Washington University and her MFA in poetry from University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is a co-founder of the literary journal and chapbook publisher, Tammy. She lives in Los Angeles.


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