After a photo of a Chechen girl on a train
I am four, almost five, and I am beautiful.
I have my red hat, my red coat; I ride
on my mother’s lap. People smile at me.
I make them happy. When my mother looks
at them, they look away. My mother has
brown eyes. I have blue. I have only seen
my father in pictures. We have to practice
my mother says. Where are we going?
To visit Grandma in the country.
What will you do there?
Help Grandma gather eggs and be brave
even if the hens peck me.
Ride Doishka, the pony. I look out the window
at the wildflowers speeding by.
And you mustn’t cry says mother if we get there
and there is no Grandma, no pony.
After drawings by recipients of the AFSC feeding program in post WWI Europe
The women who cook for us are friendly giants,
like the wife in Jack and the Beanstalk. They stir giant pots,
ladle soup into bowls. The counters in the kitchen are stacked high
with rolls. Essen, essen! they say. These might be the only words
they know in our language. Quäkerspeisung. This means they are here
to feed us. We write poems about the milk they bring.
Each child receives two cups a day
and daily puts on weight that way.
They are to feed us first, but I have made a drawing
of my father eating. When he thought no one was looking,
he put down his spoon, his roll. He picked his soup bowl up
and licked it like a dog. Thick soup is so good after a war.
I did not want to embarrass him, so I drew his eyes looking over—
there. But what of their husbands, these women?
Are they the giants who would make bread of our bones?
Love Poem for the Other Woman
The way sapphires and rubies are both corundum.
The way when we first saw each other, I blurted,
You’re beautiful! The way she came with me
to confront him. How he was telling me nonchalantly
that the dog had gotten into the garbage. How his eyes
clouded over when he saw us both there in the kitchen.
I don’t have to stay here for this, he proudly puffed,
then, got into the truck with his name painted on the side
and drove away. How we both kept taking him back
despite the danger.
The way I still went to my classroom to teach King Lear
after I got her email. The way he accused us of ganging
up on him when we were both Cordelias. The way we never
knew how tight the noose really was. How her daughter
had the name I’d wanted to name a daughter. How she drove
the same car I had wanted to buy. The way when he put
his guns away after doe season he left one bullet out
and said my name was on it. How in the hardware store
when we were looking at hammers, he looked at me and said
One blow is all it would take.
How this could have been a fairy tale with two princesses.
The way no one gets to live happily ever after. The way
she still lives a block away from me. The way she puts
her hand on my shoulder when we run into each other
in the street. How years later, we still feel bewildered.
The way there is no name for what we shared.
Josephine Refuses the Operation
After a line by Stanley Kunitz.
Be patient with my wound—
know that it will not heal.
The heart, like any muscle,
is going to give out. Some day
it will slow—slower—stop.
Mine sooner because it has been beating
so ravenously, because I have loved
so much living this life. I have loved
the river and the heart-shaped leaves
of the catalpa, and the heart-shaped leaves
of the lilac. The crooked, teethed hearts
of the basswood, the linden. The not-quite-
a-heart leaf of the elm. The sad, clefted
heart of the violet. This going, too,
is sweet. I can’t stop it. Won’t slow
the trajectory of the soul, the body,
over the cleft to the other half
to become the dust of a star.
From the orange hammock of his stroller, Liam squeals,
throws his hands up. We realize he is trying to grab
the vastness. That’s the sky, we say. He squeals again,
his hands opening and closing, tiny white flowers
against a bright blue field. How magical, like the ancients
who thought the stars were holes in the dome above us,
a way for the gods to keep watch over humanity.
How like a god he is, being wheeled along the shaded sidewalk,
grasping even the dizzying sky in his tiny fists,
as we, his servants, name everything brought before him.
This is the house of yearning—
the featherbed on rusted box springs.
The cobwebbed windows,
a milk bottle vase on the sill.
The way the cottonwoods shade the shed
that is no longer there. The husband
and wife smile young and hopeful
from a dusty frame on the dresser.
This is the cradle that held their daughter.
The stove where the wife baked their bread.
The mudroom where he pulled off
his boots every night after milking.
This is the part where you realize every
broken window is a piece of you.
Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, in Eastern Oregon’s high desert and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary. The Children’s War is her second poetry collection from Salt.
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