Illustration by John Kazior

Poetry Real Estate: Fables

Adrienne Raphel

The Lion & the Statue

David has fifty-nine apartments for rent and twenty-six lease takeovers to see. Beautiful, sun-drenched, south-facing. Duck light. Private dock, semi-private outdoor space, roof deck, live band. Tortured orchard, koi pond. 

The client’s representative drinks tap water from a Fiji bottle. 

We can easily represent things as we wish them to be.


The Ass & His Shadow

All the agents have their own listings, but the Agency is a family. David, Jason, Christine, Heather. Jason has been with the Agency the longest, he even had a brother here, but the brother is no longer with us. Heather is relatively new. Christine is platinum again. David lost all that weight and he’s been selling a lot more, it’s really great for David, and for the Agency, so everyone should aspire to that.

In quarreling about the shadow, we often lose the substance.


The Farmer & the Snake

David is representing a two-bedroom mid-century modern with great bones. 

My client requires a three-bedroom house, says the client’s representative. You could easily blast out this divider, knock out the kitchen, build up the second floor, says David, and for the price per square foot in this area, it’s a steal. The representative stares into the middle distance. It’s really impossible for us to envision what the end product would look like, says the representative.

David pre-spends some of his commission getting renderings from an architectural firm to show what the renovations would look like. The new plans show the house without the divider, the kitchen re-done, a second story and a balcony on the same footprint.   

But what my client likes is the fact that the house is original, says the representative.

The greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful.


The Frogs & the Ox

The client’s lying on the operating table, staged. They’ve put a wall of plexiglass under her collarbone and above her pelvis, and she’s propped up so she sees her torso, navel stretched taut, skin smooth. Gut reno, says the agent. 

The residents, in surgical masks and hospital gowns, move around her obliques. One of them comes over to the client, makes a neat incision in her stomach, and pulls back the skin in four petals, pink intestines, coiled like the longest brain. 

The client watches them do things to her body. The surgeon mashes a fist around her stomach and it yields, springs back to the touch, this pulpy, spongy pottage. A wave of black-red slides closer than the plexiglass, up her eyelids, over her eyeballs.

Do not attempt the impossible.


The Fox & the Crow

This house has culture, the owners are multi-cultural, you can see their culture all over the house. The rich ruddy wood, burnt sienna, matches the ochres in her paintings of Balinese women. They have this hammered copper rain drum they use as a table. They’ve retained the natural curve of the tree and it follows up the double-height living room into the balcony. The backyard is terraced so beautifully, it’s totally private, like an urban oasis.  

Try to get lots of multi-cultural clients, Jason tells Heather. You should work one of the art fairs, I know it’s not our usual neighborhood, but this isn’t our usual client base. Maybe you should team up with Christine on this one, she’s got — a more cultural list? 

Flatterers are not to be trusted.


The Eagle & the Arrow

When Heather’s black Range Rover pulls up to the base of the driveway, Christine’s yellow Lamborghini is already parked uphill, Louboutin shadows up the incline as Christine stilettos to the door. Christine is showing the house to Heather’s client. You’re lucky to be seeing this house, Christine says, it’s really one of the best properties in the Hills, your client should know that.

My client is on a very tight schedule, Heather informs. He travels a lot. Internationally. 

Christine flips her hair. But then, she pauses at the lock. Christine turns and her face is whiter than platinum blond. Um, she says. The house manager didn’t leave the house open, and I don’t have the code. 

Can you text them to get over here? My client really moved everything around to make time for this showing, Heather smirks. Christine’s eyes are white. 

The client’s silent black Tesla has already emerged around the corner.

I really moved everything around to make time for this showing, says the client. He and Heather wait in the middle of the hill.

I can’t imagine what could have happened, says Christine. 

We often give our enemies the means for our own destruction.


The Hare with Many Friends

Let’s have a party, says Christine. Jason will host at one of his houses. Everyone will be invited, except, should we really invite Heather? There are so many people there’s a bartender and a signature cocktail, and branded napkins. The house is for sale but that’s not the point, not tonight, six bedrooms, six and a half bathrooms, open concept kitchen. 

When they arrive, it’s like no one has seen each other since the office holiday card, but in truth they’d all been working together until spin that afternoon.

Heather is there, hair wound in a Heidi crown of braids. Heather, says Christine, air kisses. So good to see you. I had no idea you were coming. 

I had no idea I was invited, she says. The bartender hands her a champagne cocktail without her asking. 

So great, says Christine.

He that has many friends, has no friends.


The Man & the Serpent

First, Jason was a rollercoaster tycoon. Log flume, carousel, zero-g, vertical loop. People to clean the park and people to fix the rides and people to manage the people driving the rides. Roller coasters are great! Then he built the swings, the bumper cars, the Ferris wheel. Concessions stands and bathrooms and wastebaskets, not in that order. He piped Max Steiner scores on loop until he got sued, which was never. Roller coasters are great and Jason was great at them. 

When Jason comes back to the park, the log flume has shot straight into a wooden tooth. It’s also racist, the flume, it was always but especially now, can’t not see it now. There were protesters before but now, says Jason, I feel things. 

Injuries may be forgotten, but never forgiven.


The Rose & the Amaranth

The client is on a roller coaster without permission to scream.

Greatness carries its own penalties.

Adrienne Raphel is the author of Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can't Live Without Them; she teaches in the Princeton Writing Program and lives in Brooklyn.