Exquisite Duet: Larissa Shmailo and Anne Elezabeth Pluto

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


By Larissa Shmailo

I abandoned myself to invisible hands,
the known vice and strong vise of my nerves and my glands.
I half-screwed and cat-moaned and imagined your stare
in the stranger, his knife slowly teasing my hair.1
I abandoned myself to invisible hands,
to old limerance, feminine amorous trance, 2
and I censured myself: “You’re hysterical.” Him,
and the rape became me, now a phantom sex  limb.
I abandoned myself to invisible hands
and faced memory, resentment, and fear, and command. 3
Why were you just like him? Why so many to fear? 4,5
This old lead lives in me, this tar asphalt of tears. 6

1A bandit took my breathing;
A date rape! howled the frat;
A rufi took the edge off;
The rapist called me fat
2An obsessive romantic infatuation, usually unrequited and/or inappropriate and painful.
3Through the ability to understand how little you cared, I grew strong. I forgave and forgot you, like used toilet paper, flushed.
4I knew, knew what you were when I chose you. The rapist not so much, but you, my voluntary rape. Because I believed you when you said this is what I deserved. Because I helped you break my spirit and soil my dreams.
6I am now 100 percent responsible for my life and no pain can take that away from me.


Invisible Hands

By Anne Elezabeth Pluto

I let you touch me with invisible hands
write outrageous demands fist enjambs
into shifting sands and turning into

an electric fan – I let you touch me with invisible hands –
a married man – rattling love in your domestic plans –
dancing straight past your wedding banns – I let you touch me

without making plans – marking distant lands in the half light
of a tipsy nightstand – drunk on the love command I
let you touch me with invisible hands working

their way into my tight waistband – the last in a long
and twisty line of courtesans – you weighed my heart in kilograms
composed epigrams and suggested I get fitted for a diaphragm –

that last time I let you touch me with invisible hands
and sullen heart – with strutting cock and ticking clock –
I left you
gathering torn demands, slipping useless from your invisible hands.


Larissa Shmailo is editor of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry (Big Bridge Press) and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. She translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s celebrated reconstruction of the first Futurist opera; the libretto is now available from Červená Barva Press. Larissa’s work appears in numerous anthologies, including Measure for Measure (Everyman Library/Penguin Random House)  Words for the Wedding (Perigee/Penguin Putnam), and Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey Archive Press). Larissa’s poetry collections are #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books), In Paran (BlazeVOX [books] and the chapbooks A Cure for Suicide (Červená Barva Press) and Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks). Her poetry CDs are The No-Net World and Exorcism (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon). Her novel, Patient Women, is now available from BlazeVOX books.

Anne Elezabeth Pluto is Professor of Literature and Theatre at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, where she is the artistic director of the Oxford Street Players, the university’s Shakespeare troupe. She is an alumna of Shakespeare & Company.  She was a member of the Boston small press scene in the late 1980s. Her chapbook, The Frog Princess, was published by White Pine Press. Her e-book, Lubbock Electric, was published by Argotist ebooks in 2012. Her latest work appears in, The Buffalo Evening News, Unlikely Stories: Episode IV, Mat Hat Lit, Pirene’s Fountain, and The Enchanting Verses Literary Review.  She has been a member of Worcester Shakespeare Company since 2011.

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