A marionette

Mark Wagenaar


the perfect doppelganger of the old woman who holds it, feeds a squirrel with one wooden hand. And in the marionette’s other hand is a little wooden kite, with six strings tied to a smaller marionette, who watches a procession of ants carry away one of their dead, a parade of yellow cabs on the street beyond, three people missing from the city somewhere beyond that. And in her left hand, the size of a child’s fingernail, a stethoscope, one end on the squirrel’s chest: a faint, rapid beating, as quiet as the footsteps of those who shape the city of the dead. Sometimes you see them working, here, building this city too. Some say they’re working to make this city resemble the one below. That is the great secret, the squirrel’s marionette says. Each time I bury a nut I hit the great mirror they’ve been polishing. And when it’s revealed, we’ll look down & see ourselves amid the stars, in this life or the next.

—after Calvino


Mark Wagenaar is the author of three prize-winning poetry books, most recently “Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining.” His poetry and fiction appear widely, including the New Yorker, Cincinnati Review, Gulf Coast, etc. A father of two little PlayDoh-eating kids and the husband of poet Chelsea Wagenaar, he is currently an Assistant Professor at Valparaiso University.