Poetry: False Friends by Natan Last
“False Friends,” by Natan Last, moves with intoxicating energy. So much relies on the subtle strength of Natan’s diction, his adventurous associative leaping, and the sly lubricating humor (via Old French from Latin humor: ‘moisture’) from beginning to end. A wonderful performance that makes fish-in-buckets of us all.
Or what about bated breath, a gasp
emitted from a nervous porgy, reeled in from a pool
in my stomach and out through the mouth with a lure
of pure shock—or nostalgia, from the Latin for “our,”
the Greek for “algae,” the green freckles scumming
the surface of old well water. Cliche, which, really,
comes from French via clé meaning “key,” and is doused
in slippery fat from an African perennial, so you’d bobble them
in front of double doors that look like lungs. Wouldn’t it be nice
if bonfire was in fact named for good fires and not fires
begun with bone. Well, whenever I take the stage,
I throw my own voice, breathe the unfileted whole of the word
ventriloquist: which—honest—comes from the Latin, “to speak
from the stomach.” The dummy and I
have our hands up each others’ backs,
tingling the bones that elegize.
The boy with the false jaw looks just like me
the way words in italics look like regular words, a little off,
ivory face lit up with too much mischief.
After the show, I’ll fold the false boy’s wooden limbs
in an ink-black case. When I drive away, I’ll hear his joints
clanging in the trunk, a fish flapping for life
in a tin bucket, a gloved hand soon to grope its innards
and clean off the vocabulary, strip the thing
of every breath and bone.
Natan Last is a graduate student in public policy at Columbia, a founding member of the International Rescue Committee's innovation lab, and an advocate for refugee resettlement and immigration policy in New York. He writes regular crossword puzzles for The New York Times, The New Yorker, and other venues. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Protocols, Futures Trading, and The Seattle Star.