Dispatch from the Future

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RAISE FOR
DISPATCH FROM THE FUTURE

“I love these poems. They are cool and horrified at their own coolness. A masterclass in phrase-making.”

—JOE DUNTHORNE
,
FABER NEW POET AND AUTHOR OF
SUBMARINE

“Leigh Stein’s poems know how to laugh it off after a stunning tumble down a flight of stairs.”

—ROB MACDONALD
,
EDITOR OF
SIXTH FINCH


Dispatch from the Future
is a force of nature. Like other great American poets before her—Bernadette Mayer, Jorie Graham, William Carlos Williams come to mind—Leigh Stein is not afraid to make the everyday beautiful. As if she says in these poems, ‘Don’t worry, we all feel this way.’ We do. Read this book.”

—DOROTHEA LASKY, AUTHOR OF
AWE
AND
BLACK LIFE

PRAISE FOR LEIGH STEIN’S
THE FALLBACK PLAN

“Beautiful, funny, thrilling and true.”

—GARY SHTEYNGART
,
AUTHOR OF
SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY


The Fallback Plan
is to this generation what Rick Moody’s
The Ice Storm
was to the previous generation, and
The Catcher in the Rye
before that.”

—SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS
,
LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

“Stein, 26, captures the voice of the young 20-something prodigal daughter with the clarion call of authenticity in her debut novel.… Stein’s light, accessible, self-deprecating prose makes this coming-of-age story a pleasure.”

—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Cheeky self-assured prose.”

—O: THE OPRAH MAGAZINE

“A masterwork of the post-collegiate babysitting genre.”

—NEW YORK MAGAZINE

“Her enchantingly funny and insightful debut novel
The Fallback Plan
 … has a universal quality, capturing a generation’s angst quite like
Franny and Zooey
did when it was published in 1961.”

—CHICAGO TRIBUNE

“27-year-old former
New Yorker
staffer Leigh Stein nails the latest postcollegiate trend—moving back in with Mom and Dad … Stein seems poised to become the Lena Dunham of contemporary fiction, given the way
The Fallback Plan
’s storyline deftly bears with it a steady commentary on today’s flatlining economy and a generation of college grads (an estimated 85 percent of the class of 2011 moved right back home) who have to wonder if we’ll ever actually grow up and become real adults.”

—ELLE MAGAZINE

“Readers will endorse Esther Kohler’s voice as being not only funny, but also true. It echoes long after her story ends, and
The Fallback Plan
is a novel everyone under 30 will relate to with familiar pangs of self-loathing and sympathy.”

—BOSTON GLOBE

“Intimate, urgent, and laugh-out-loud funny, Leigh Stein’s novel bravely investigates the splendor and tragedy of the end of youth with a sensitivity and lyrical deftness that will not disappoint. Think
Franny and Zooey
. Think
Goodbye, Columbus
. Think of this book as your next great read.”

—JOE MENO
,
AUTHOR OF
THE GREAT PERHAPS

“… an existential crisis of lost 20-somethings that pretty much everyone can relate to.”

—NYLON MAGAZINE

DISPATCH FROM THE FUTURE

© 2012 Leigh Stein

First Melville House printing: June 2012

Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

www.mhpbooks.com

     Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Stein, Leigh, 1984-
Dispatch from the future / Leigh Stein.
  p. cm.
eISBN: 978-1-61219-135-5
I. Title.
PS3619.T465D57 2012
811′.6–dc23

2012014733

v3.1

For Sarah

CONTENTS

Acknowledgements

I

 

If you attempt to back out of the planet, turn to page 77.

If you decide to take the time to consider other options, turn to page 50.

Edward Packard,
Through the Black Hole

 

WARNING

There are better ways to break a heart than Facebook,

such as abandoning your pregnant girlfriend at Walmart

like that guy did to Natalie Portman. If you read this book

sequentially, bad things may happen to you, but only as bad

as the things that would have happened to you anyway.

If, however, you do not read this book sequentially you may

find that you are suddenly aboard a sunken pirate ship,

staring into the deep abyss, and wishing you had chosen

not to chase the manatee in your submarine after all. Do not

panic. If you end up in the wrong adventure just go back

three spaces and draw another card. Or go back to bed.

Or read up on the side effects of the medication taken

by your loved ones. The great R. A. Montgomery once wrote,

“Suddenly you’re surrounded by eleven Nodoors,” and I

guess what I’m trying to do here is ruin any hope

you may have had of coming out of this alive.

 

BASED ON A BOOK OF THE SAME TITLE

By definition of vicious infinite regression

I don’t like to talk to philosophy majors.

They have found the truth and the truth is

that there isn’t one, so on Saturdays they

wear overalls and stare at their reflections

and try to guess whose childhood was worse,

but in the end they realize they all share

the same dream of having a reason

to join the Witness Protection Program,

which disappoints at least one person, who

thought his dream was so uniquely his.

Last night I got a fortune cookie that said

I don’t get along with basically anyone,

and from the back I learned the Chinese word

for grape:
putao
, and it made me wonder how each

informs the other. To find out, turn to page 117.

I wonder how much longer I can live here

before I do something irresponsible like

meet a teenage boy on a Ferris wheel in 1941

or lie in the street and watch the stoplights

change from green to yellow or sit on a porch

swing at dusk and listen to
Leaves of Grass

read by someone who has just worked all day

with his hands. Already on page 56 I love you

so much I just want to steal your clothes

when you’re asleep and wash them. I want us

to communicate telepathically until I am old

and suffering from dementia and can’t even

remember I know how to play piano until

a nurse tells me I do and still I’ll deny it

until she puts my hands on the keys and then

there’ll be Chopin so quickly, as the light

spills in the leaded windows and the lilies

lean in closer. By definition of vicious

infinite regression I am in front of a mirror

holding a copy of the movie based on the book

you wrote based on the parts of our life

together that I no longer remember and

looking back at me is a woman holding

a movie based on a book based on her life

and she wonders if the woman she sees

wants to die as much as she does. I keep

staring at this bruise on my leg and drawing

a blank. Last night when you called I told you

I was happy, which was true, but thinking ahead

I could be unhappy, too, if that’s what you

wanted. I could be any of a lot of things:

a wrist, a ghost, a harbor, a rope. I could

be the one who doesn’t know the language.

I could be the reason they take you first.

I could be the last person to see you alive.

 

WINTER, 1979, THE COLDEST IN RECENT MEMORY

Theoretically, I was held by a man in Detroit

at gunpoint. Theoretically, he let me go.

I have not told this story to you before.

I only tell you now for two reasons. One:

you’re not from Michigan. Two: I have searched

for his scar along your neck and, so far, no luck.

They said to wear my purse beneath my coat and

pretend it was a baby if anybody asked me and

they might but they probably would not try and take it.

They said the average memory span for normal adults

is seven items. Let me differentiate between the two.

I used to tell this story about Tristan and Dolores,

who I left in the rain every time. I made them break blue

glass with their back teeth. Dolores would say, I am half sick

of shadows, as the waves came up from the storm tossed sea.

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