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Flatman by Cheryl Caesar

But then she seemed to hear a voice, or if not a voice, at least words, words flattened out like printed words on paper, “Oh, no! We can’t stop here! This is a two-dimensional planet and the children can’t manage here!”

-Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

You may not know he’s flat

because you’ve seen him in profile.

In fact, he has just two views, front and side:

he flipflops between them.

See how everything about him

aspires to flatness. His hair

rolled out in weird shapes, like a child’s

misshapen gingerbread man. His square head.

He could set his Diet Coke on it.

His voice spreads out in an eternal sigh,

covering the landscape like a sheet

of old newspaper. It lifts a little

at the end of each sentence,

with no more meaning than the wind

lifting a bit of paper trash.

All his food is flattened of flavor.

Burnt steaks and ketchup. He’s the ideal

fast-food consumer: maximum fat, sugar, salt:

every taste always the same.

He has sex with playmates and porn stars

because they are familiar from the flat page,

the flat screen. He uses no condom,

because his flat penis would only tear it,

just like a paper cut. His ejaculate

must smell like a cigarette butt in an old Coke can.

He doesn’t believe in us, the 3-D people.

And yet he does, and then we frighten him.

He wants to steamroll us like a cartoon cat.

He can never cross the dimensional border.

And so he hates us (hate being

the flattening emotion), hates us all. Hates the round world.

Cheryl Caesar lived in Paris, Tuscany, and Sligo for 25 years; she earned her doctorate in comparative literature at the Sorbonne and taught literature and phonetics. She now teaches writing at Michigan State University. She has published her poetry and translations of Jean Tardieu’s in Blackberry, The Coe Review, Labyris, The Wayside Quarterly, Stand, and The Dialogue of Nations.

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