"Instructions to the Double" by Tess Gallagher

May 14, 2018

So now it's your turn,

little mother of silences, little

father of half-belief. Take up

this face, these daily rounds

with a cabbage under each arm

convincing the multitudes

that a well-made-anything

could save them. Take up

most of all, these hands

trained to an ornate piano

in a house on the other side

of the country.


I'm staying here

without music, without

applause. I'm not going

to wait up for you. Take

your time. Take mine

too. Get into some trouble

I'll have to account for. Walk

into some bars alone

with a slit in your skirt. Let

the men follow you on the street

with their clumsy propositions, their

loud hatreds of this and that. Keep

walking. Keep your head

up. They are calling to you—slut, mother,

virgin, whore, daughter, adulteress, lover,

mistress, bitch, wife, cunt, harlot,

betrothed, Jezebel, Messalina, Diana,

Bathsheba, Rebecca, Lucretia, Mary,

Magdelena, Ruth, you—Niobe,

woman of the tombs.


Don't stop for anything, not

a caress or a promise. Go

to the temple of the poets, not

the one like a run-down country club,

but the one on fire

with so much it wants

to be done with. Say all the last words

and the first: hello, goodbye, yes,

I, no, please, always, never.


If anyone from the country club

asks you to write poems, say

your name is Lizzie Borden.

Show him your axe, the one

they gave you with a silver blade,

your name engraved there

like a whisper of their own.


If anyone calls you a witch,

burn for him; if anyone calls you

less or more than you are

let him burn for you.


It's a dangerous mission. You

could die out there. You

could live forever.