Fiction selection from the 2008 issue
The Muse Lottery
by Ann Robinson
I am not a shallow person, but I did not want someone who could make me look that good. She was 4 feet tall, oily hair, bulbous eyeglasses. I had no similes.
“I am your muse,” she said in a flat tone.
We were in a long room with no windows called the Muse Lottery Hall. My muse was No. 16. She stood on a platform wearing a long orange robe with green combat boots.
“Muse antecedent,” I said, refusing to give my name. In case I decided to dump her on the highway.
There were all kinds of muses. Infant muses for poets who could never leave childhood, lullabies without diaper changes. Spatial muses who dressed in astronaut suits, no doubt of the Rothenberg School. Language muses dressed as the alphabet. Metaphysical muses with fainting couches and long peacock fans to hide their gossip. Romantic muses with champagne glasses and portable lawns.
We left the Lottery Hall. My muse had spikes for eyes. She didn’t like LA traffic. The sunset ripened over her scowl. Two pizza delivery boys stalled traffic, yelled off car hoods, fender enraged on fender. One had rear-ended the other.
“Now, there’s a poem,” I said to the muse. I began with “I was stuck in the hot sunset.”
She was not impressed. Her expression had no color. Was I supposed to fill it in?
“Your first assignment is never to use ‘I.’”
She screamed Elizabethan sonnets out of the window. The pizza delivery boys jumped back into their trucks, sped off.
For days, my writing took a turn for the worse. She, on the other hand, wrote copiously for hours at my desk while I was forced to write on countertops and floors.
“The sun is a fried egg in Teflon.”
Her look signaled the Dark Ages. I cried, remembering how happy the other poets looked with their muses. But this! She was, after all, working for me.
“If you can’t describe a sunset any better than that, honey.”
She was always a sound sleeper. One night, I picked her up and tried to drop her out of the second-story window. Her eyes flung open like blinds. I fell on top of myself. She told me to write about it. Then she promptly fell asleep in midair.
It took me two days to write one stanza without an “I” in it. I described how my muse abused her job, her patron, the freeway, the colloquial sunset.
She liked what I had written.
You are so much better when you don’t sound like a poet, I thought I heard her say, but I realized that it was my own voice.
“You are supposed to help me,” I told her. “I’m getting old. I have to do the whole thing by myself. All the poets are established at my age. And what about my retirement benefits?”
“Me, me, me. You think better than you write.”
She went over my poems, made remarks in bold cursive. Some scathing, some scatological, some sibilant. Some even in French.
“I don’t need you anymore,” I said. I was sick of the French Symbolist.
“You can take me to the edge of town and leave me, second-rate poet.”
Her laughter filled the walls, the mirrors, any reflection with enlarged selves. Through the glass, I saw the scenery of gardens, evenings, future days.
We got into the car, and the staccato music of sprung rhythm flew out of the radio.
I would not miss the muse. She was a strain. What had she ever done for me that I couldn’t do for myself?
“Everything,” she whispered.
“Fucking psychic!” I screamed, going 90 in the car. A million broken planets, the moon the size of my fist banging on the steering wheel.
On the edge of town, a dump of celestial size and margins. My motor kicked off without my shutting off the ignition. I saw hundreds of bent images out there. My muse got out of the car, waving. How beautiful she looked at that moment, not fleshly beautiful, but an escape into the heart. I saw the dump as a series of metallic edges, little tensions moving the earth. The long muscled junk of cars and glass so splintered, it was no longer glass.
My muse giggled, an array of metrics that combed the air. Her hair went up, and each strand coursed iambic. Spondee accents pulsed down into the soles of her feet as she ran through the junkyard. How beautiful her legs were just now, pouncing off the images until all I saw and heard was a quiet cricket rumble.