The only response
to a child’s grave is
to lie down before it and play dead.
Black boys getting shot in Harlem—that’s certain,
waiting like a germ between our taste buds for the chance to begin a plague. The news
reports in a six-sentence quip, and all is revealed: street party, crossfire, shot in the head.
Pity, to be 13, black and poor in New York’s only home
that welcomes such folk, its skyline dotted with decrepit roofs and
a quick buck. We keep our mouths closed, though we sigh (“Not
again.” “No, not again!”) when we hear of the boy’s demise. They
won’t report this the next city over—let alone the next state.
How many bullets have reduced a black body to mere flesh&bone?
In an instant, we board the subway, our hands around pocketbooks
with force as we traverse, in and out and underground,
the network of tracks like sutures across our shoulders,
linking the city and our lives: Lord, please, let it not be our child.
Kids getting shot in colonial New England—
Wait. What? The news yanked out our tongues
and wrapped it around spreadsheets and pizza stones,
calling out to our little ones in a hollow timbre,
their fresh bodies close, breathing their bubble gum,
breathing scabbed knees and muddied shoes. If only
the killer had gotten counseling. If only gun laws were
just so. Our minds wrapped around what-ifs
until the worst of us remained convinced it was a hoax.
Surely our precious 6-years-olds are not slaughtered with
automatic weapons—these bodies, this pink flesh.
Something else must explain it: conspiracies, trauma actors,
the media! We always blame them, rolling out blankets
to snuff out what burns us: Lord, please, let it not be our child.
Do children get shot in that corner of the world? In the city of
flowers? It is, by all means, extreme: summers boil, winters
witch-tit cold, dust, hail, and when the gunmen crash through
the doors, it’s another kind of storm brewed in the landlocked valley,
stirred by the impossible wind that descends the peaks.
One hundred plus children, gone. Children—dead and gone. The
smartest ones barricaded the door, a lesson in physics: Angle of
crossbeam? Density of wood? Not enough to stop men from
crashing it down in praise of God. In the city of flowers,
workers load the ambulance with blood stain. In the city of flowers,
mothers unveil themselves to wrap the wounds of little boys in pink, blue,
orange, red. In the city of flowers, the MPs hug their M16s,
skullcapped fathers scream. And the storm rages on, in the city of flowers,
in the cities of our first born: Lord, please, let it not be our child.
Kristen Hoggatt-Abader is the author of the poetry chapbook Arab Winter and the former Ask a Poet advice columnist for Drexel University’s The Smart Set. She is currently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Arizona in Tucson and a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in rhetoric and composition. Her work has also appeared in The Ledge Magazine, Nimrod International Journal, and Poetry Porch. More of her work can be found at khoggattabader.com
To step out from
trees onto open
steady nerve, eyes
shaded to sun’s
tense sudden glare,
thigh’s balanced to
any gust of wind,
and no reason
other than a need
to stretch out arms,
twirl in place,
to grasp freedom
to run without
yet to stand still
in awe of your
inability to exploit
your new freedom
under open sky.
Still deep red smudges
among faded frost-bit
leaves, rose petals linger,
brittle lips kissed by
a November breeze,
memories of warm
embraces and sun’s
heat. Hope clings
to the last petal when
it releases its grip
on yesterday and blows
away into next spring.
Flames swirl above
piles of brush, a last
farewell to limbs
that waved lush leaves,
green hope before
storm’s fierce gust
brought down trees’
long stand under
summer drought and
winter fury and harsh
words from frantic
hosts. Now a pile
sinks into ashes.
A gray wisp rises
into a blue sky
with a wistful
wish for peace.
Ever since atomic
bombs stopped lighting
up night skies
and blasting tiny
atolls to atoms
that glowed behind
shark eyes, I
find it hard to sleep
with all those people
determined to make
the world a better
place and America
greater than that
with nothing big
just what is in their
hands when they step
out of the shadows
as I walk by.
Richard Dinges, Jr. lives and works by a pond among trees and grassland, along with his wife, two dogs, three cats, and twelve chickens. Eureka Literary Magazine, Cardinal Sins, Caveat Lector, North of Oxford, and Poem most recently accepted his poems for publication.
I have a bad habit of imagining disasters that won’t ever happen,
wasting time brewing up a storm for us to weather
just for the chance to emerge at sunup holding hands,
smiling, having proved ourselves impervious and deep-rooted.
I’ll admit I didn’t plan for an inland hurricane that struck as we slept
apart, tearing through my plans like a trailer park.
Without your laugh to chase it into hyperbole, the beating of branches
against shaking windowpanes just sends me running for the bathtub.
I sit, shivering, waiting for the inevitable is it raining where you are?
that tells me you’re watching the weather channel for me,
that you feel everything tilt when our pine tree finally topples,
heaved-up roots leaving an altar-sized hole outside the north window.
When I wake, hours later, blinking alone under an unexpected sunrise,
there’s only the silence of a wind that’s blown itself out.
It drives Grandma insane; she swats at Grandpa’s hands
when they spill change into the fruit basket,
shuffle playing cards under his sweating coffee cup.
She chases him across the house with a mop
and still can’t keep him clean:
the whiskey hiding in the top cabinet
and the Marlboros cached in the defunct Toyota
are their own type of stubborn stain.
There just isn’t enough time in the day—
doctors in the morning,
dishes in the afternoon,
and then it’s dinner
and you’re starting all over.
The clock over the stove stopped years ago
and she swears she’s been living the same minute over,
stuck in the breath between
the punch of the spray bottle
and the swipe of the rag.
He just laughs and laughs,
begrudges her wrung red hands
and her endless litter of candy wrappers,
the peppermint smell of her nervous mouth
as he leans in to kiss her quiet.
Of course, in the next year’s silence, she finally catches up.
She beats the clock back into motion
and suddenly the minutes won’t stop.
Without the abating curl of cigarette smoke
the air is overwrought with the smell
of her favorite sage soap.
The truck spends a week at the detailers.
The cabinets hold only Comet and Windex,
casserole dishes on loan
and coffee cups wiped dry.
Bouquets drop withered petals on the kitchen floor
and Saturday seems a fine day for sweeping.
What else is there to do?
It’s a start, at least, my mother sighs.
The clueless gardener, summoned in desperation,
rips through vines and kicks something up
into the french door, leaves it fractured and frosted-looking,
hanging like a held breath behind the venetians
that we can’t exactly look out of anymore.
Once dirty work’s done there’s a relief
in surveying the empty agitated earth,
though victory doesn’t feel quite like we expected
with the irises beheaded and weeping indigo,
Great-Grandmother’s hydrangeas dethroned
for daring to sleep through winter.
Victory doesn’t feel like victory when we realize,
too late, that neglect doesn’t kill fast enough.
Guilt is perennial.
Next thing we know it’s summer and we’re sweating again,
on our knees unbraiding lantana and thistle
under an indifferent sun.
It never ends, my mother laments.
Green and dying and ever-narcissistic,
the garden curls away from us.
With no deference to our hands
it rots and flowers and folds in on itself,
antic and unconquerable.
Previously published in Sparks of Calliope, August 2022
Phoebe Cragon is a student pursuing a degree in English at Centenary College of Louisiana, where she is Literary Editor of Pandora Magazine. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Sparks of Calliope.