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Schadenfreude, by Stephanie Brown

April 21, 1996

If this were a movie, the sound of sizzling would

foretell disaster

because you're walking out of the room leaving

something cooking

because you have too many burners going

There should be the sound of trumpets, thin and

mournful

You're going to walk into your murder.

It begins to smoke.

All the same I'm humming.

The attacker hides behind the door.

I'm whistling a happy face.

Minutes before you start shrieking, again and

again

before the plaster falls down around you

before the strangulation begins

folding up clothes and putting them into

drawers--your back

turned--

while the skillet, in close-up, keeps sizzling.

Minutes before the shrieking and choking.

The cupboards become lit.

Watch the doll's mouth melt.

This audience won't pity you

like big round workers who don't get pity

when they step on bus steps in the morning and

make the bus

sag momentarily. Like wizened-up bodies

holding canes, heads bowed under golf hats

on their ways downtown--

This audience will laugh--

the way your eyes bulge out and your tongue is

unhinged

how you return to find a kitchen filled with

smoke

when we all know it's your gluttony that's caused

it.

(It's the way you locked your lies up in the closet

that's led me to hate you.)

So when your doom comes--

a knife thuds into your back, let's say,

or an arrow is shot into your ribs

or a razor is pulled across your face

or you trip on a roller skate near the open cellar

stairs

or you walk into a sliding glass door

or you are hung from the shower curtain rod in a

plastic white shower

or you are stabbed with pinking shears

or demoralized with an ax handle

or beaten down the spine with a rake

or forced to swallow some golf balls

or sliced at the waist and the wounds salted

or if you merely carpet-burned your arm on the

carpet

It will feel great to watch

you get it

or at least to see you experience

some slight, future discomfort,

chagrin,

embarrassment.

From "The Best American Poetry 1995" edited by Richard Howard. (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster: $13; 303 pp.) Originally published in The American Poetry Review.

Copyright 1995 Reprinted by permission.

* STEPHANIE BROWN will read her poetry at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books today at 1:30 p.m.

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