Paul Guest


When she tells me her name I’m thinking

of Napoleon’s exile there.  Of his hand

in paintings, oddly tucked away,

and the vague memory that it meant

something, once.  I’m thinking

then of Bugs Bunny aping Bonaparte

and how as a child I laughed

but did not know the thousands dead

in his name.   I’m thinking

not at all what she would like

kneeling there in the aisle of this plane

when she asks if I was born

this way, and who in Chicago takes care

of me, a wife, a girlfriend—

she knows one or the other is in my life.

When I tell her which two

white rings of bone in my neck

are fused, wired, made one,

I can see her ardor marry grief

and I want to save her

from my life.  I tell her

that some now think Napoleon died

of a hormonal disease

slowly making of him a woman,

his body white, smooth, hairless,

with breasts a physician thought beautiful,

and though she smiles

I cannot tell which story she no longer

wants to know.



“Elba” first appeared in LIT Magazine.