The Rules

The spiral on a spiral notebook’s sharp enough
to pop a water-wing. When the nurse unwound it my whole life
fell out of order. Is it such a crime to cry in a swimming pool?
Do I have to wear this bracelet? Once you’re crazy
anything you do’s crazy. One time I asked a blind woman

what she saw. I was six. Was that crazy? What’s behind you?
she said. I don’t know. Exactly. In summer camp
before I knew what deaf meant I yelled at a boy
for capturing the wrong flag. I couldn’t understand why
the grownups kept saying he’s death, he’s death.


The sun is a ball of fire, counsels a voice from the catwalk.
Life is possible because we fall in its direction
and/or because we keep our distance.

Suddenly, without knowing why, everyone is aware
of breathing in. All explanation is disillusionment,
the voice is saying, all understanding incomplete.

All part of the narrative. When the heroine faints,
she is a feather. Our secret gladness is a selfish lung.
We are the audience. We’re meant to hold our breath.

The lull between curtains reminds us to applaud.
Our applause reminds us of our nakedness.
That was magical, we say, to dispel the magic.

Annelyse Gelman

Annelyse Gelman is is a California Arts Scholar, the inaugural poet-in- residence at UCSD’s Brain Observatory, and recipient of the 2013 Mary Barnard Academy of American Poets Prize and the 2013 Lavinia Winter Fellowship. Her work has appeared inIndiana Review, Hobart, Swarm, The Awl,the PEN Poetry Series, and elsewhere, and she is the author of the poetry collectionEveryone I Love is a Stranger to Someone(Write Bloody, 2014), where these poems first appeared. Find her at