*scroll down for poetry by Gail Peck and John Hoppenthaler
Someone stole Satan’s hipbone
and flung it against the sky.
Now you ride the orange horizon,
a stunned, wingless bird
flying in circles, a broken halo
haunting the air.
You return like a savior,
like a cancer
that keeps coming back.
The Sky is Falling
The sky is falling.
And Henny Penny is nowhere to be found.
There is no bright blue cartoon sky, no pop-up green grass.
Only a grey horizon with a single black cloud
drifting like a hole in the sky.
Minutes later, I watch rain disappear from the radar,
watch the sun blink through the clouds.
And I feel like some dumb chicken, panic knocking against my purple chicken heart,
the seed of some silly fear planted deep in my tiny bird brain
Ode to Gumbo
after Sue Owen
Born from flour anointed with oil,
from a roux dark and mean as a horse’s breath,
you remind me of some strange, mystical stew
spawned from a muddy version of Macbeth.
Only someone’s replaced the spells with spices,
the witches with a Cajun chef.
Maybe you’re a recipe torn from Satan’s Cookbook,
a kind of dumb-downed devil’s brew
where evil stirs its wicked spoon
in a swampy sacrificial hue.
Maybe God damned the okra that thickens
your soup, the muddy bones that haunt your stew.
Maybe this is why, when we smell the cayenne,
we’re struck dumb as a moth.
Maybe this is why everything that crawls or flies
seems to find its way into your swampy broth.
Christmas in the Psych Ward
The schizophrenic girl twists off a turkey leg
then scoops a spoon-full of corn onto her plate.
Her hair is a black brain of braids,
her voice slow and mechanical
as if she’s reading from flash cards
pinned on the wall of her skull.
She’s convinced someone’s planted microphones
in each yellow kernel of corn.
I sit with her while she eats, watch her smash
each yellow kernel with the tines of her fork.
Surely, on Christmas Day, it’s the least I can do,
to join her, briefly, in her disease,
holding each yellow tooth of corn between my fingers,
smiling as I snap each tiny yellow mouth shut.
After Robert Capa, photograph,
Many would be beautiful without grief.
These mothers, most with their mouths
open in a cry revealing uneven teeth.
Some with handkerchiefs—one
is wiping her right eye, another
covers her lips. The white linen glows
against black dresses.
Their boys had stolen guns
and ammunition to fight the Germans.
A woman at the center displays
a photograph of her son. He is
a shadow next to her face.
The woman nearby has her hair pulled back,
an earring catching light, the only adornment
other than a wedding band.
Capa said these images of mothers
were his truest victory. This man
who couldn’t bear taking pictures
of camps where relatives had died.
Years later he stood outside
Auschwitz and photographed the fence.
A compilation of voices of children
who were hidden in Holland.
I went into my little box.
For the second time that day
my heart stopped. I heard
knocking on the door, loud voices.
I thought, this is it—
inside my little box
gray clouds that might
be a German coming
to get me, knocking.
A man came upstairs,
and he looked around.
You didn’t dare move—
everybody would hear you.
The loud voices knocking.
. . . might be coming
to get me. I was barefoot.
I managed to escape
into a meadow and was there
all day, my heart knocking.
Gray clouds, dark. Flat
Dutch land. Loud voices
on the horizon coming
to get me. A meadow,
my little box. Don’t move.
After Käthe Kollwitz, bronze sculpture
The child seems too large
for the mother’s lap, his long legs
bent at the knees over her skirt.
Her face is downcast,
and one hand touches his.
Her other hand covers her chin
as if in thought.
Perhaps this is Kollwitz holding
her son the way she once held him
as she sat on the floor sketching
in front of a mirror, and when she groaned,
he said, Don’t worry, Mother,
it will be beautiful, too.
Is this how she brings him back,
Peter, fallen in the first war—
Last night I dreamed once more that
I had a baby . . . I would go on always
holding it in my arms . . . I would
not have to give it away.
His head on her chest, body unclothed
so that she is his warmth.
You want to run your hand over
the scarf on the mother’s head.
Tower of Mothers
After Käthe Kollwitz, bronze sculpture,
1938, and two photographs in
Today their hearts are stone,
these mothers who’ve created
a fortress with their bodies,
their children peeking from the folds
of skirts. One mother has her bare feet
planted, another has her fist in the air.
No, they shout at marching boots,
planes overhead. Nothing can get
to the children now—what kind
of game is this they ask?
It has no name.
In the photograph of the gravesite,
a girl in blue pants and green top
is behind a casket. She is not
looking at it, her eyes are clouds.
She leans against a woman’s lap,
her head tilted away
from the soldier who cups her chin.
The girl has a hand full
of red flowers, the other held loosely
around one rose about to fall.
The boy, probably four, lies face
down on dirt, rock. His pants
shredded by a mortar, his feet, legs, arms
soiled from dust. White shirt someone
must have buttoned, one sleeve
not fully covering the arm bent backward.
Who will come gather him, wash
his body, comb his hair?
I could fling a carrier pigeon from this rooftop. I guess
it would fly, too, not drop
as would the proverbial stone, kerplunk. Nevertheless,
the world is a risky proposition.
They are rats with feathers, the pigeons. Disease-ridden
and insolent, spattering
intentionally our most statuesque moments if left to dive-
bomb at will; to trust one with
words tied around its well-turned ankle is to be taken in
again by romance. Fold
paper into airplanes, flawed and risky; make an honest leap
toward the origamic. Launch
them to spiral down or catch if just once that wheezy cough
of angel’s breath. Sidewalk
gawkers will stagger, slow to witness. Even pigeons must huddle
awhile in shadows they’ll cast.