“I Have Confidence” by Emily Sernaker

Emily Sernaker


Before every job interview, I think
of Julie Andrews swinging her suitcase,
singing “I have confidence”
in The Sound of Music.
She really psyches herself up
in that silly hat, clicking her heels
beside a yellow wall; body diagonal
in the air with hope. The Red Cross
lobby had big marble displays,
hands chiseled holding onto each other.
I liked the interviews there, all that
Clara Barton history, plans for unplanned
catastrophes. It was a big change
from the San Francisco start-up.
Oak boardroom table, one
of those rooftop views, vending machines
with Guinness and chocolate milk.
The Bay Area was looking good:
cats named Billie Holiday,
quilts spread over Dolores Park.
Everyone was eating kale, handing me
drinks in mason jars. I had a hotdog
in New York. Sat in the Marc Chagall
conference room of a Refugee Relief Agency.
Because you guys resettled him right?
It was a terrific story. Fifty Americans saved
2,000 artists, intellectuals from the Nazis.
Their board member went on Ed Sullivan,
convinced the public to help more.
That group eventually hired me
but not for a few years and not
in that city. How fast can you input data?
You look like you’re waiting
for the principal’s office. All I trust
I lead my heart to. All I trust becomes
my own. I have confidence
in confidence alone. A bird shit on me
in Manhattan. I wiped it off,
was still wearing a black dress in a big city.
I bought a slice of cheesecake,
used an old student ID for a nosebleed ticket
on Broadway. The audience was full
of student choirs. One boy couldn’t help it:
as we were taking our seats,
he sang a few lines of
“I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
He just wanted to hear
what his voice sounded like,
reverberating through a place like that.

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017

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Emily Sernaker: “I will always be glad to have a Coke with Frank O’Hara, pump gas beside Dorianne Laux, listen to Li-Young Lee’s father tell a story. Poetry teaches me precision and offers clarity. There is nothing else like it.”

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