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Six Elsie Poems
Laughing Cow vs Elsie
Big bovine heads float over the destroyed city
Laser beams of mean girl miffed fury zing
Down from their eyes the rubble smokes
No one can escape this I mean everyone
Is “collateral damage” but runs around
Anyway screaming in some squeaky foreign
Language waving their tiny well-cared-for
Hands the populace flees above the sub-
Title Populace fleeing (screams) I apply
My eye makeup in the same rearview
Mirror I’m using to watch this but a lot
Of the commotion is from the monsters’
POV “incomprehensible gibberish” we know
Means save us and the highly enhanced sound
Of those massive digestive systems working
Invisibly is save us “’completely terrifying’”


Elsie the Real Elsie
Died long ago was
Not Elsie at all
But “Good Enough
Lobelia” her live
(Because she was
Flirtatious she
Became “Elsie”
Swinging her hips
Fluttering long eye-
Lashes) died in
An accident her
Truck rear-ended
She’s buried so
There is no real
Elsie unless you
Want to count
The little girl
Who said she was
Carsick whose
Parents didn’t
Care or else
Didn’t want to
Stop there are
Always more cows
Who can be “Elsie”
At least for as long
As we need to
Pretend she still
Exists a little girl
Grows up marries
Chairs a Department
Of Anguish 3 years
In the Diary Industry
Never forgets she
As the dizzy
To spin past
Ended up puking
Into her own
Gloved hands


I see you as stilled now your
Face in that rictus the sound
Of your false your mechanical
Laugh follows me down the long
Hall but it’s as if you’ve already
Left us and this is just residue
Detritus a translucent film or gas
Elsie I need to tell you now my
Father also wanted to wear
A dress no he never ever
Confessed it’s just that I
Startled a hunger in his eyes
I recognized many years later
On the eager faces of men
In a book of photographs
Of transvestites the look
Of an immigrant See I
Escaped my hard life
In my brutal murderous
Impossible country and now
I must become American
The hunger to be loved
For what one wishes
One were not what one is
Or Was ElMur Elsie says stiffly
Fiercely works for the chemical
Division of the Diary Industry
He’s a real man she repeats
Hung like a bull et cetera
Her anxiety louder than
Anything else in the world
It was only the one time any
Way it was nothing Elsie
Elsie it’s not that “You
Can’t go back” it’s just that
It never felt like home


Elsie Is Only a Construct
An excuse an arrangement
Of grievances filed and other
Imagined complaints I could
In other circumstances hear
Myself lodging if I weren’t
Coughing sputtering wet
With what’s still coming
At me as well as whatever
It is I’ve already thrown
Up maybe she’s nothing
But the name of a street
I lived on once memory
Is so tricky I can be
Thinking I’m thinking
About a brand and then
Be remembering a new
Year’s eve or rather the guy
I had such a crush on who
Called to invite me to go
To a party at 9 pm and
I knew he was calling
Because he couldn’t find
Anyone else and so I
Said no good night but
There was no party was
There I have a polaroid
Of him stretched out
On the rug in that house
Late at night or early
In the morning happy
New year which Elsie
Is made up of what
Happened and also what
Didn’t happen a face
Smiling yes but not
For me laughing but
Not with me floating
Above the bowl of sodden
Cornflakes I was much
Too hungover to eat


Elsie See
My inventions fail me, demand
(Precisely in their pretense
Of being “fine just fine”—pushing
Their face into a hard grin,
Tugging at that choker of daisies)
My pity. Having said as much
I halt. Haven’t I also failed you,
Asking for what you must promise
Never, ever to give me? On my head
I wear one of the 56 rubber masks
Made in your likeness, it slightly
Impedes the flow of bourbon that
Is like mother’s milk to me. I feel
Sort of transformed, yes, but also
Sweaty, and, as we say down here
When we don’t like the truth, “ugly.”


A Door Ajar
Is “barn” or barred
To hear in here is ha
An open and shut case
For care            What
Comes when everything
Is gone               long
Says gate is too
Late                   Wait
Just shut it         Then
Shut it                 again
In this empty stable shit
Is the only sign we were
Ever “born” or bored
What I heard was
That’s not what I herd

Laura Mullen is the author of eight books: Complicated Grief, Enduring Freedom: A Little Book of Mechanical Brides, The Surface, After I Was Dead, Subject, Dark Archive, The Tales of Horror, and Murmur. Recognitions for her poetry include Ironwood’s Stanford Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Rona Jaffe Award. Her work has been widely anthologized, and she is the librettist for Nathan Davis’s a Sound Uttered, a Silence crossed (for choir and percussion) which was commissioned by the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus and has been performed at Notre Dame and Williams College. Her poems have been published in periodicals such as The Nation, Poetry, and Lana Turner.