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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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Rumors

By that winter of ’41, cafes and bars hosted

     endless debates. We held ours over lunch,

and over dinner, and again over

evening study breaks—not too late, as we girls

had to be back in our dorms by ten.

How far would Hitler go?

What did it matter to us,

     what Japan did in China?

“As long as they do it

     on the far side of the ocean,”

     Farley said, “I don’t care what it is.”

“But this is genocide!” George objected.

He was the only one we called

     by his first name. Even Gloria was willing to forgive him his

     beautiful clothes, once she’d noticed

               they didn’t fit quite right.

“If we turn our backs on Nanking—”

“Oh, that,” said Farley. “Most papers

     never carried those stories.”

“Even worse,” Nelson shot back.

“It’s true those reports were unconfirmed,” Gloria said.

“But terrifying if true,” said Nelson, “and The New York Times

     thought them

               true enough to print.”

“Even there, you can’t believe

     everything you read,” Farley warned.

“But what about that Englishman who’d escaped,” I said,

     “and was interviewed by the British reporter.”

Someone at the end of the table muttered

something about Orientals and truth;

“little yellow-bellied liars,” I heard,

and someone laughed.

My skin crawled. Nancy turned her head; her voice was mild.

“Hey, lads. Let’s keep this

on a higher plane.”

“He only said the truth,” said a guy named Davison, his

     heavy arms folded on the table. “No, really, listen.”

He started ticking off points on thick fingers.

“They are small, their skin is yellow, at least

     compared to ours, and—did you see the article last week?—

     They do lie. No listen, really. This isn’t prejudice;

     this is facts. They don’t think truth is

     as important as we do. So, you see,” he explained,

     “‘little yellow-bellied liars’ is just—”

     he shrugged—“accurate.”

“Absolutely,” Marchenkoff said. “And it’s

     equally accurate to call you a

     thick-necked muscle-bound word-twister. But

     you wouldn’t call the person who said that

     your friend.”

“He’s not muscle-bound,” said Farley.

     “He’s just muscular.”

“Well, that’s precisely the question, isn’t it?” I said. “Which word

     you choose, matters.”

“But muscle-bound has a very precise definition,” said Davison, still

     serious and sincere.

“Yes,” I agreed. “But it’s not definitions that count here,

     it’s connotations.”

“Well, anyway,” said Farley, “as long as they do

     their lying in China, I don’t mind.”

“So it’s okay,” said George, “as long as they don’t attack here?”

“Yeah,” said Nelson. “What if they attack us?

     The Japanese, I mean.”

Farley shook his head. “They couldn’t. They don’t have

     the technology. So let them stay in Asia

     and shoot each other.”

“An isolationist in our midst,” Nelson said.

“We should isolate you and

     see how you like it,” Gloria suggested.

He leaned towards her. “You keep me company, and I wouldn’t mind.”

“Then it wouldn’t be

     isolation,” she said, but I could see how

     startled she was, that he was flirting with her. Too startled

               to respond in kind, or else too unpracticed. But he wouldn’t

let it go; he leaned a little closer, and said something

     I couldn’t hear; she laughed, glancing at him, and I saw how

her heavy features, which when she was wary, looked lumpish,

became regal in repose; and in laughter

     appealing, even attractive

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