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Alina Stefanescu

Letter To An Unknowing Pissant


Vonnegut describes a “pissant”:

"somebody who thinks he’s so

damn smart, he can never

keep his mouth shut”.


I saw the way you argued

with your daughter-in-law

about the war in Iraq.

She said it was sad that

little children were dying.

You got all red and threw

that abortion in her face.


She said she liked traveling.

You encouraged her to travel

to hell or another galaxy.


She worried about sexism, so

you put her on trial for

reverse racism.


I know you did your very best

to make her feel like an idiot

at every opportunity.


Everything she said amounted

to something you knew better.

You are the penultimate pissant.

The next time you piss on her,

you will turn into a tiny ant.



Soddy Daisy, TN


We’ve been driving since the sun

rose neon as Vegas.

Respite shares two letters

with Soddy Daisy, and two

is enough for us.        


I tell you everything except

right now

you add air to the well-worn tires and

there is no breath long enough to

explain my hope:

an able hand teasing melody from a painted dulcimer.


A young man smiles a wide set of teeth,

spits, tips his hat, insinuates a sunset.

Tells me there’s music at the VFW down the road.

Tells me there’s one guy- a recovering poet

turned acoustic guitarist- that’s really something.

Plucks a dandelion from the curb and

puts it between his teeth, tunes it

like a toothpick, and I think only

how reckless my drive for good music.



Stag Hunt


It’s too late for anything

besides game theory.


All that’s left is a coordination game.

Let’s apply a stag hunt dilemma, you say,

to the rigors of modern dating.


I tell you, I’m a dating dilettante

for whom even the word feels slippery,

a slip of the tongue into commitment.

But I’m willing to listen.


Then you mention Rousseau.

I tell you, I’m allergic to that man.

But you insist he was a humanist, a deep thinker,

a formulator of deep thoughts, like the

one in A Discourse on Inequality


I tell you it’s too late for anything,

but you tell me the story anyway:


"If it was a matter of hunting a deer, everyone well realized

that he must remain faithful to his post; but if a hare happened

to pass within reach of one of them, we cannot doubt that he

would have gone off in pursuit of it without scruple..."


The unmowed lawn of black hair atop your head

needs trimming, but you want to talk about scruples

and when they restrain us from making bad choices.

I tell you bad choices are never unmade.

But you say bad choices are clearly defined as those

having the least desirable social outcomes.


I tell you it’s too much

this 21st century dating divide,

but you look like ripe cherries when parsing the tension

between unscrupulous action and its preemption.

There is mutual suspicion, a limbo, you say, and

it prevents us from absorbing the cost of our actions

by guaranteeing that suspicion will lead one party

from merely suspecting to finally defecting.


I tell you it’s too late for these ideal outcomes

which you define as mutual cooperation- neither

défection or unscrupled action. Fingers twitching

like hausfraus, you remind me to play by the rules.


A nuclear family mobilizes, a parade of distended

jolly rancher patterns, sour apple renumerations.


I tell you it’s a bust, this mutual cooperation

amounts to a Nash equilibrium- a dead end,

a situation where players can’t do any better,

can do only worse, depending on the defection of others.


Ah, but the temptation to defect connects fear and action

when there is reason to disbelieve the "rationality" of the

other player, you say, as if disbelieving your own.


 Doesn't he see that this is advantageous for both of us?

That it couldn't get better? Wait a minute-- what if he doesn't see?

Then he might decide to defect because he doesn't know any better.

I can't wait around for him to defect because my opportunity costs will increase...


I tell you it’s too late for anything

but you seem very nonchalant about our dilemma’s solution,

both players must shoot off one of their legs so they can’t chase

the hare, you say, as if legs are just words to throw around in a game.


Think only how clean and cauterizing, this solution,

the only fair solution to the dating dilemma being

voluntary, mutual self-mutilation.

You look happy for once.

We go from Rousseau's story to playing a game

where winning involves accepting a known loss.


The sun sets as the couples in apartment above fasten

their thong-style chastity belts.

Anything for love, I say,

or just anything to keep the loved one

from amassing a more impressive

stag collection.



Alina was born in Romania, raised in Alabama, and reared by the spirit of Hannah Arendt. She lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner, three unschooled children, and the ghost of an indignant philosopher goat. More at