Laura Page

Stephen Biesty’s Man-of-War


was the glossy paged 4th grade educational

oddity that made me think of years like a sliced-up frigate.

Scurvy was detailed in a particularly unpalatable

cross-section of the Royal British Navy’s machine,

as was the operating theatre, where

the ship’s surgeon did his bloody work at the aft off the orlop,

but decks had names like poop and sails spanker,

and the whole thing seemed like a grim, floating dollhouse

the way the book cut it up and offered wedges.

With all the gusto for carefully illustrated

snafu that I’d loved on Where’s Waldo pages, but with more realism,

Biesty, with his graphite and water-colored commerce,

gave me a first hint of the subconscious, the possibility

of a giant, metaphysical scalpel.

In 4th grade, there was 4H, butterflies throttled, pinned open,

parts apart where they should be touching. In 5th grade, my class

dissected frogs and cow brains, and my

nostrils stung from that quick sneeze of formaldehyde.

After the frog, I knew literal slices weren’t the point, though

I did want, at first, to see my body working—little rugged men

wrapping the rigging of my heart around their fists

or would-be mutineers causing a ruckus in

other waking parts.

Later, I wanted to see the sub-conscious vessel,

the shape of the thing, one transection at a time, up close.

I wanted a clean cut, to observe all the contributing

cogs and wheels in that one falling out, then that other one—

those almost interminable dark days, then

the sunbathed ones. I wanted to see what benign

and not-benign routines, what old salt, formed the combative in me.




Another oddity:

Henry Frederick Reddall’s Fact, Fancy and Fable.


Man of War—


a phrase applied to a line of battle ship, contrary to the usual rule

in the English language by which all ships are feminine.


I’d imagined them little men in shirtsleeves and breeches

rope-a-doped in the match between my head and my heart. And

the assertiveness with which my slight body was changing

certainly had to denote boys. The anticipation of boys.


Lithe ocean vehicles were, no doubt, christened for

the fairer sex for their fairness. But what was this buxom lady

doing with so many armed boys inside of her?


‘Men of war’ were heavily armed soldiers. A ship full of them would be called

a ‘man-of-war ship.’ In process of time, the word ‘ship’ was discarded as

unnecessary and there remained the phrase ‘a man-of-war.’


Redux: leggy in spar, a lethal pair of knees, splayed aft and fore,

the fairest sex of them all was, in fact, a man.




Stephen Biesty grew up drawing the little men swinging

sailor-tarzan in his heart and just kept doing it.

Incredible Cross-Sections became a half-decade franchise for which

he sliced up all manner of bulwarks including the human body.


Biesty never uses a ruler or any kind of drafting tool, which

means his Man of War is a rogue thing, free-handed, a perfection in its

own class. The neat ribbons he made of my warship,

the ghosts in my re-tooled galleon, have, over my years, become

frayed at their edges. Not the sea-worthy they were.

A thread in the fabric of those sections was pulled every time

Meg, Hoyden, Gamine was invoked for me.


My family’s sobriquet was Lou, a warring adjective, but they

couldn’t have known that.


What I couldn’t know and still don’t: what is benign and

not benign? A question that, sliced down the middle, is

never binary. A half-drawn thing, rudder to stern, I’m afloat—

androgynous guns, the gamine, in graphite and watercolor.


Capture the Flag


We competed in authenticity games,

but there was no need; everybody imitates uniquely.

For instance:


I once clasped K at the waist quick and not quick

during capture-the-flag. Wanting to know

what the new contours would feel like

to another pair of hands,

I made her me and I used mine—

just for a second—

even though young girls’ bodies

were supposed to be young arcs of the covenant.

I sized her up as she was out-sporting and

determined we were the same consecration, proportion,

touched her fleeting and

not fleeting, not un-innocent.


The slight stiffening, her frown

(would I feel so coltish?)

was a flag seized to say I’d been an

authentic imitator of that Biblical character, who,

lunging to right a toppling arc on the road to Jerusalem,

clasped golden thigh, and was felled instead.


Lies About Fishing


Sometimes, when I’m being generous with myself, I think

I lie to get closer to a truth. Maybe not the truth, but something.


My whole childhood, I wanted Dad to take me fishing, but

my Grandad never took his daughters, so Dad never took me.


He took my brother, once—

but only once, because fishing really isn’t my Dad’s thing.


When I finally went fishing years later, I told you

I didn’t know how to bait a hook.


You gave me a Cheshire cat grin and said not true.


Yes, sometimes, I lie. I say Dad did take me fishing once. I say

that I caught something glittering, gasping, and when Dad said to throw


It back, I put my lips to its suck instead, stole its sequins,

grew a tail, and after that—


Dad stopped joking about beating the boys off,

pantomiming with his pole. My mother stopped trying to reel me in.


Laura Page is a graduate of Southern Oregon Unversity and editor of Virga Magazine. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rust + Moth, Crab Creek Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Unbroken, Yes Poetry, TINGE, and others. Her chapbook, epithalamium, was selected by Darren C. Demaree as the winner of Sundress Publication’s 2017 chapbook contest, and is forthcoming.

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