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The Secret

by Leila Chatti

I read an interview online
with an old woman, really old,
a hundred and some
odd years, who, when asked
her secret, meaning how
she kept on living despite
death’s pull, said I stayed away
from men. And I believe it. Every time
I’ve wanted to die, there’s been a man
behind it—loving me too
much or abstractly, like a
god. It’s exhausting.
The heart’s a simple machine;
it can only manage well one task
at a time, and I’d rather trouble it with my own
rich blood. I tell him if he ever left
me, I’d close shop, retreat
to a house with six cats and give up
on the whole thing, probably
be gladder for it. I say you know, just planning
for my health. Even now,
I’m wary, keep my finger bare,
unshackled. I lose sleep. At weddings,
I let the bouquet fall at my feet.

Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet and author of Deluge, winner of the 2021 Levis Reading Prize, the 2021 Luschei Prize for African Poetry, and longlisted for the 2021 PEN Open Book Award, and four chapbooks. Her honors include multiple Pushcart Prizes, grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and Cleveland State University, where she was the inaugural Anisfield-Wolf Fellow in Writing & Publishing. Her poems appear in The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The Atlantic, POETRY, and elsewhere. Chatti is a Provost Fellow at the University of Cincinnati and teaches in Pacific University’s MFA program.