Julia Madsen


Two men stand shoulder to shoulder connected by earphones.
They put their phones together. The plug-ins are like genitals
surfacing and resurfacing from the depth of some etheric
interaction, their thoughts occur together over and over in a sort
of looped telephony. Then they occur to me. A private thought
is a loop of which I am either an occurrence or not, and if not,
then it is a little hard to stand. It is hard to stand.
A greenscreen lifts


and the host runs on stage he runs with the stage,
it is a mirror of his shoes. He glances backwards, is not the city
behind him. He says ‘distance’ and raises his hand. He touches
his glasses and says ‘darndest.’ A black and blue tie
a monological signal displaced where eye meets gesture,
a sort of retinal retention, he motions toward the audience’s
loud moan and subsequent applause—‘c’mon’ he says—
like a climax flourishing unfinished.


The network logo is nestled or furtively enclosed in its lid.
‘You people are in such a lovely mood’ he says ‘thank you.’
He makes a joke and the audience laughs into their mouths.
Our view begins at the edge of the screen and permeates it
via waves of etheric interaction. He shows us what is up next
and says ‘God bless you’ before he sends us off for
the commercial. A father talks to his son a family sits down
and talks about finances a man talks into his headset. He stands
on the street holding coffee. Someone waves to him as he opens
his phone when the commercial breaks they are still waving.


The host holds a card in his hand and brings a phone up
to his ear. He has a call coming in. The phone is flesh tone
and bolted to the desk, he writes something across
the audience’s forehead. He has a call coming in or the other way
around. He is looking back at us or the other way around.
He spreads his arms benevolently and sits not uncomfortably
in his chair. We are not uncomfortable with the silence
resounding in our smiles. He cuts himself off. He suppresses
laughter. Even the music silently loops when a woman with
glasses and a man with a hat and a child with a scarf sit frozen
in their chairs mid-action in an ad I recover from my somewhat
distant past. My father sits frozen in a chair and has a nosebleed.
In another ad a man checks out his groceries in a store stained
red. He looks behind him and then with real emotion warmly
embraces the cashier, starts to speak then says nothing,
embraces him again.


The music is a mode of sincerity, and that means that you
are not speaking to me. The host looks natural. He licks his lips
and introduces us to the guest, shakes his hand and says
‘you leave us wanting more.’ The sound bites disperse.
Are their thoughts colluding with ours he looks down and asks
how he is doing. The guest crosses and uncrosses his legs.
He puts his finger to his lips and looks around with suspicion.
‘You’ve just given up haven’t you’ says the guest.
When the audience becomes too aware, he swivels in his chair.
‘This is bizarre’ he says. ‘What do we do now?’


Our radiant bodies are warm with potential. Sound bites
run through the host’s teeth as he points to the greenscreen.
The network logo has become a spotlight on the sky of the city.
He searches his empty pockets for a while. No. Our bodies
are tuning devices. The same sound occurs to me over and over
like a thought but it is not my thought, it is nobody’s really,
it is this one. ‘I look up to you as a father figure’ says the guest.
We have the same thought and it is this one.


A child waves at the camera in this ad a family sits by the pool
a woman stands, statuesque, in front of the refrigerator
for five minutes. She is letting the cold in. It is winter
in Manhattan. It is summer in Manhattan. Seasons shift
as the family looks up at the sky, unexpectedly noticing
the spotlight. A woman puts together a flesh tone puzzle of her
face and all of the pieces are the same. Ads flip. The pieces
are the same and unexpected. I open the refrigerator. I am
holding the camera. Keep it open. The guest touches his beard
and silently writes something on the audience’s hand.
The camera pans to the audience and we do not recognize
their faces but we recognize their laughter. The guest’s hands
wave. Both of them. Indeed, abstraction exists.


Ed. Note: LATE-NIGHT TALK SHOW BEGINNING WITH COMMERCIAL  is an ekphrasis of the Late Show with David Letterman which aired on November 5, 2012.


JULIA MADSEN received an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University and is currently a PhD candidate in English/Creative Writing at the University of Denver. Her poems and multimedia work have appeared or are forthcoming in Caketrain, Dreginald, Deluge, Small Po[r]tions, Black Warrior Review, Alice Blue Review, Devil’s Lake, Versal, and Cutbank.

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