by Sara Backer
I know the standbys to make you pay attention:
clowns, puppets, masks, distorted mirrors, ghosts.
Anything that is not as it seems.
I’m not all that original.
I plagiarize your family and everyone you’ve met.
I unlock the zoo and prod the predators to hunt you.
I use your acrophobia to drop you on the edge
of a ravine or into a collapsing roller coaster.
The trick is not to scare you too much.
If your startled heart wakes you too soon, I’ve failed.
I keep trying to tell you what you need to know.
Every death I give you helps you live.
I am proud, though, of our secret city
I return you to time after time.
Each episode, I show you a few familiar streets
along with a new scene. Even as you dream,
you are aware this is your nightmare city,
yet it feels more convincing than conscious life.
You can almost map it out when you’re awake.
Someday, we’ll live there together.
First published in The Pedestal Magazine