In Their Own Words

Natalie Shapero on “Lying Is Getting”

Lying Is Getting

to me. The high-ups instructed me not to tell their dad
about the particulates—the last
time he caught them polluting, he made them sit
themselves down right there and eat a whole smokestack.
I keep nodding when the city insists I stick
with the story of accidents—she was cleaning
her gun, he was cleaning the recessed
sign on the front of the passenger train, they were holding
hands and had a whole plan to clean
the concrete twenty-two stories below the ledge
of the mixed-use downtown
tower. To really make it shine. The party line
is getting me good. I keep turning
my face to the flashbulb in an effort to seem like someone
with no secrets, and now when I see other people
framed and beaming, I want to know what they’re keeping
in. All those holiday moments, tacked
to the fridge or strung up on wire and eyelets. All that sin—

From Popular Longing (Copper Canyon Press, 2021). Copyright © 2021. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.

On “Lying Is Getting“

Sometimes my poems proceed from bits that never quite landed / never ended up totally making sense. This poem incorporates two. The first is related to watching my dog ingest a cigarette butt she’d found while sniffing around in the dirt well of a city tree. My dog doesn’t usually go for those; it must’ve had something on it. I remembered these stories some people have about being caught smoking when they were teens. The most common trope, I think, involves the parent making the kid sit there and smoke the whole pack, consecutively, as aversion therapy; I’d also heard one somewhere about the parent making the kid actually eat the cigarette. I tried to come up with the inverse bit: I caught my dog eating a cigarette, so, to teach her a lesson, I made her smoke one. Or something. Then I looked up from the dirt well and into the actual tree, which, like so many trees around this neighborhood, was eerily leafless in summer, dutifully dying from one of the many un-attended-to leaks in the gas main below. If you stand in the right spots, you can smell them. An airplane flies overhead, and then another. Municipal officials go boating in the river and then distribute the photos as ostensible proof that the water is not polluted; they’d rather hold their noses for an hour from the safety of the hull than have to stop taking donations from the people doing the dumping. The public housing is clustered along the highway, along the thick corridor of exhaust at all times in the air. And the winters are long, and the stoves are ancient, and the cooking gas sticks in the kitchens. An airplane flies overhead, and then another. I started to read about underreporting of suicide. It’s just easier and more decorous to say that whatever took place was accidental; it might also be favored from a public-health perspective, to reduce the possibility of contagion. This is the second bit, which of course isn’t funny: following from the rosiest account of many at-home gun deaths, try to come up with suicide methods for which it would be maximally ludicrous to be ordered to attribute the tragedy to a mishap during cleaning. You wouldn’t believe how dirty this city is. 

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