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It’s almost impossible to explain why the playfulness of Heather Tone’s “Likenesses” produces such delight. There were some other, very strong, more “responsible” poems among the finalists for this year’s Boston Review Poetry Contest, poems that are lucid and historically poignant, but “Likenesses” has all of this and more. Freedom, light, leggerezza, speed, and depth. Crystal abyss, “nothing,” a touch of kabala. Perfect projections of shades between death and life, a scent of Eden. Like four-year-old boys throwing clumps of mud at each other, bursting into happy laughter. These lines scream with joy, and yet they are as full of silence as a mysterious film projected on the night sky. They remind me of silkworms producing silk on Chinese streets in front of our very eyes.
—Tomaž Šalamun, contest judge
Learn more about BR’s writing contests
When he is dead, a man in a
bathing suit looks most like a little boy.
A woman in a bathing suit
looks like a woman, unless she is quite
thin, in which case she looks like a little boy.
A little girl in a sundress looks like a little boy
in a sundress. Her mouth is a cold oval, as cold
as a strawberry. When dead, a robin red-breast
looks like a little girl, while it goes without
saying that Robin Hood looks like a boy.
The snowfield cresting the mountain looks
like a little girl sleeping on the mountain.
The pines, boys right before they disappear
into men with cold faces who carry hatchets.
Just before it dies, a car looks like a teenager, but only
if it was built before the ’90s. After that, cars look like women.
Blooming asters on hillsides look like boys.
The boys look like stars breaking up.
When it is dead or just before, an ant looks like
a woman sunning herself on a beach.
Crabs look like little girls playing hopscotch.
Grasshoppers look like middle school boys
throwing bugs at girls in late summer.
Spoons are the eyes of women asleep behind rainstorms.
Their interlaced fingers look like two children afflicted with dwarfism.
The pint glass is a man preparing to dive off a tall building.
Paper planes look like little girls in skirts, real planes are women.
When it is dead, a fox has the eyes of a little girl.
A faun looks like a little boy, its bones like a courtyard full of children.
When it is alive the plant, which is called kinnikinnick,
looks like a woman. It covers the floors of forests, its berries
shining wetly like the eyes of a living fox.
When it is dead, it looks like an old man in rags sinking into the earth.
A stump looks like a tombstone out in the middle of the forest.
It’s easy: just close your eyes and think of a thing. Does it look
more like a little girl or a little boy?
Words look like dead prostitutes, twisted, thin: my subjective opinion.
If it is alive, a dog looks like a plump cloud or a stringy cloud.
If it is a different kind of dog it is a slightly worn shoe.
If it is a different kind of dog still, it is perhaps dead.
A bluebird looks like a woman frozen in water.
A hay bale looks like a king who died in his sleep one September.
A dried cornstalk, a dead prince.
The country church looks like a little boy.
The city school looks like a pyramid of boys.
Driving by it reminds me of the House of Windsor.
A computer looks like a man killed in his prime
by a heart attack. A chair looks like a shy little
girl made of blue plastic. The stuffed red dog looks
like a little boy. The “Welcome” sign looks like a grave.
The novels look like fat babies, broken teeth.
The lamps look like young women of fashion.
Paperclips look like little boys. Staples look like
little boys. Rubber bands look like boys.
Some citizens of some countries never have enough
to eat. Scissors look like teenage boys, while knives
always are treasonous queens. Framed photographs look
like old women with plates of cookies. Calendars
with pictures of beautiful insects look like little girls.
Boys of a certain age look like parts are missing.
The window is a woman’s eye measuring a certain horizon.
The man working at the restaurant looks like
a little girl in a pinafore. He has that androgynous
look that is popular right now. A wine glass
looks like a woman. The chalkboard with
specials looks like a teenage girl, looks like
how she is when she wears red lip gloss out
to see a band. The drummer looks
like a little girl wasting away. The key
lime pie looks like a man. The man travels
to Florida in a pastel-colored polo shirt.
Croissants are women wrapped in gauze
sitting for paintings. Peach pie
is a little girl in a pinafore. The painter
tries to infuse the dead with life, much
like vodka may be infused with roses or bacon.
A vase of asters looks like a vase of little boys.
The entrees look like women waiting to be taken.
All you have to do is consider where you
would be without other people. The green
lawn would become a man. If you are a man,
the swimming pool will become a woman,
cool and perfumed, with blonde highlights in her
hair. The swimming pool, in fact, looks like a
woman now, reflects several of them so that
the cool, blue women are drowned. When
drowned, such women resemble little boys.
The maple tree looks like a woman. The cotton-
wood looks like an old man. When all the trees
are saplings, they look like little boys
gone fishing. At a certain point, it would
be wise to ask yourself why you’re doing
this. The man who walks under the cottonwoods
looks like an older version of himself:
long years have sanded him down to sinewy
essentials. That is to say that it will not
be much of an absence in space when he
disappears. The sun where he walks looks like
melted children. His white shirt looks like a woman
flinging out a handkerchief to pause the game.
An eagle looks like an old man. A flamingo
looks like a little girl with a crooked leg.
A parakeet looks like a woman on her way
to a luncheon, or looks like the decorative touch
to the woman’s hat. A goose looks like a little boy.
A duck looks like a little boy. The duck is an
obstreperous fellow among crumbs, while the goose is a
boy savant, flying high and cold in perfect
Vs of thought. The goose is more machine
than boy, I think. The bluebird looks like a
woman frozen in water. The sparrows
bouncing around the bread look like little
girls in braids and uniforms. The nuthatch looks lost,
like a little girl. All of the birds look alive, for the
time being. The flicker looks like an old carpenter
who drinks a few at the bar at the end of each day.
Most fairy tales are populated by little girls
and little boys. Little girls get stuck in towers
or turned to trees and little boys must use
their knives. Such delineations understand
the mind of the writer, to a degree. Rupunzel
looks like a little girl. Blue Beard’s bride, a girl
with her smile knifed upon her. Snow White, however,
looks like a little boy, the center point around
which apples fall and arrows miss. (Arrows look
like boys sledding, while apples are women casting
off crowns of leaves.) Cinderella, too, looks like a little boy,
one on the cusp of self-sufficiency, her smock the color
of pepper. Her gloves look like the dirt wherein
she has dug. The garden around appears to be reaching
its hands toward her. Afternoon light lengthens
this lesson. A child turning pages has the look of a child.
The actor looks like a little boy. The actress
looks like a little boy. A candle looks like a
little girl with her arms held high in the milk-
light. Moths come near the light, as they do.
The moths look like 5th Avenue, where women
look like moths and moths look like
white gloves and gloves look like star
light eating up all the children’s arms.
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