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.


False Friends


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

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.

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