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Dana Roeser Poetry


by Dana Roeser

At twilight
when I was gathering 
         newly sprouted arugula
in the backyard garden, a cardinal
sang to me

from the high limb of 
         an ancient elm. It was a sweet
that I tried
         to answer. I apologized again
for Alice killing the robin

because the more I think of it
         the more I think she did
do in Laura. 
         A day after the murder
         I pulled up in my dirt-streaked Toyota

sobbing so hard 
         I soaked a box of Kleenex.
         I could hardly get up the steps.

Alice was inconvenienced, always
having to use the back door. Was she inconvenienced
         by my caring about the robin?

*   *  *

I will not, I cannot, 
         look in the nest 
             high up under the eave
         of my house.
The babes in the woods 
                clinging to each other
in the cushiony bed—frozen with their mouths open—
         their rubbery beaks—
         Or were they still perfect eggs—unhatched—
also frozen—
         b/c the mother left
against her will? 

I’ll never look at Alice the same. And truly I 
         don’t know she was the perpetrator.
The one time that I left her out
         when I pulled away. 
            I knew I’d be back in a couple hours.
I knew the weather was sunny 
            and hospitable.
Alice stared at me
from the end of the driveway

because she likes to go in when I’m out.
   But I was embarrassed
            being already seven minutes
late for Sarah, and I didn’t want
to open my car door,
                              disrupt the bird.

Immaturity is my humility—but that’s for another poem—or no poem.
         (Ask the cardinal.)

The bird calls are a relay, a transference. 
         They know each other
and they all have witnessed it. 
         The father, somewhere, witnessed.
That is the only explanation for the disappearance of
the dogged mother. 
         She sat on that nest, breast puffed, eyes bulging
         and inscrutable,
         her tail jutting out like a stick

through cold rain—she was under the eave, I watched her from
            little arched windows at
the top of the front door. It was ridiculous,
         the weather. 
            We had more than one night
at freezing. (I was busy then covering the
                   baby greens with bed clothes.)
The neighbor cats
            were not clued in, had no
territorial vendetta, though they, especially lithe Horace, may
         have been called in as accomplices.

Tonight. I had come from a twelve-step meeting
                   where people were kind.

I went to one at noon too—I said just who did I think I was?
         Mother-goose? A bird-whisperer? Yet,
         Beach, at Clay Knob Stable today, was also kind, 
            soft, grabbing for apple pieces with
                     his velvety, oversized lips—and disappointed,
I’m sure, that we didn’t get to do our after-
ride ritual (Christy turned him out
            for me) because I had to run

to the car before 4 p.m. to do a financial thing 
         on the phone, the stock market
         had supposedly rallied. 
         My ex-husband told me 
         today was a good day.
I have no income to speak of, as I am old.
         I am spending down the funds that came to me
                   in the divorce. I am almost five years 
         older than my former husband.
                   He still has a job. 
         Income from the part-time job I did have this semester,
according to my accountant,
         actually cost
                  me money. 
         Do the math.

How in the hell 
         did I mislay this man 
                   and my family?
Why can’t I visualize
         my Canadian boyfriend
when he is not here?
My dear Canadian boyfriend who actually said on
            Messenger this week: 
            If we break up (or words
         to that effect), if I have to get a girlfriend 
(online/yoga class/
         coffee shop, etc.) 
         because I can’t wait any longer
for us to be together,
         “I will always interact with you.”

Jesus Christ on a bright purple crutch!!!!

And then on my way home from my circuitous
         “self-care” travels today,
I realized our relationship

         was another victim 
         of my “magical thinking.” As durable 
as Sleeping Beauty 
         or Snow White—their chirping, carefully-colored birds
         and chipmunks—
bursting into song . . .

while Laura is 
         carefully extracting worms
from my little as-yet-untilled strip garden 
         between house 
                   and driveway 
under the nest—

the cat’s 
         going to get her
with lightning speed,

with sharp claws.


Black Saturday Jesus is in the tomb
            germinating and the people
across the street are rocking out
            to some kind of grinding repetitive
hip hop, interspersed with Bollywood.
            We are college students
We are going to be having a loud
            party this afternoon
and we deserve to enjoy college. So Jesus
            hung in his cocoon while
I burned a fire, opened all the windows,
            felt suicidal and went through
mountains of random bills catalogs manuscripts
            and papers and ultimately
raked through cat litter, took it out with garbage,
            recycling, and compost
all to the grinding neighborhood beat. Kept trying
            to figure out what they could
do to it. Not sex. Not work. Maybe shouting
            at each other at a party, clambering over
each other, dominating
            on their huge wooden oversized chair
in the back yard or in the ever-repeating
            hacky sack or foosball game.

                                    What is really the use of trying
            to win at divorce counseling
when you flunked marriage counseling
            and your ex-husband has a personality
disorder? Patti my beautiful, stoic
            Buddhist AA
sponsor tried to say.
            When you already lost
            What is your expectation, I believe
she said. Also, maybe implicitly, well
            NVM implicitly. Let’s just say
Patti knows me, has known me. I’m surprised
            she speaks to me.

Jesus was still hatching while this evening I rolled
            my cart through Fresh Thyme. Some appearing-
families, endless sturdy children rolling
            in and out of carts;
the stringy-haired
            tender-looking Goth woman in
the soup aisle, the very thin wan blond
            woman with whom I conferred over the
sushi case. Only California Roll
            remained. She put hers back,
and, later,
            I did mine. Bland tonight
even worse tomorrow and what was I doing
            eating all that white rice. Couple other
random people. Somebody by the Medjool organic
            dates, I think. Maybe a couple near the
remains of the broccoli or bok choy. Produce
            waning. We were all convivial.
We were all flunking Easter.
            At every turn, the handle of my cart
was shocking me.

            After the checker saw the absurdly
expensive “natural,” with-the-shiny-foil
            packaging, Sierra-something,
couture cat food I bought
            and I told her how much better
my cats’ coats were, she and I
            went over her mini-labradoodle
stud’s diet and coat
            supplement. Apparently
his coat is bedraggled. He’s still picked
            up by the breeder twice a month
to do his thing, but it appears that
            it’s wearing him out—all
those different women—or that was
            my guess. I told her I wanted
a dog, which made us both
            happy, me b/c it would
get me out of the man thing.
            The loneliness thing.
All this while a line of people
            formed behind me and random
groceries were plowing
            forward on the belt.

                                                     Driving home
I thought about how sad Beach had seemed
            at the barn yesterday, grounded
in his stall with his hurt foot and the dear
            young person, who must be
home-schooled, far too innocent at age
            seventeen to be attending
any public high school even
            in rural Indiana.
Her fresh face in my face
            asking me all sorts of questions about
Beach, about patient, shark-faced Indy whom
            I’d ridden that day instead of Beach,
about posting the trot,
            and so on. And today
at Fresh Thyme
            the other young person maybe
the same age or a bit older
            going on about the mini-labradoodle
set up. They sort of lease the dog, foster
            him, whatever.

            In all seriousness, I think these
dear earnest young people are what
            Jesus is thinking about there
in the dark. They’re inheriting rampant
            porn, a frying earth, a parent-
and grandparent-killing pandemic. Oh,
            and a brutal war and genocide
on television. & that other thing.

            My raspberries at some point must’ve
gotten loose, were rolling all over the grocery
            bag apparently, because several
dropped into my yard when I got home
            and I just popped them all
in my mouth. All that abundance. All that
            freshness on the young
people’s faces.

            Jesus, think hard. Meditate hard.
As previously stated, I don’t know how
            Patti can stand me, and come to
think of it, I’m not sure she can. We talked
            about meditation. A woman she reads
who writes about Zen and the twelve steps.
            Irish formerly-Catholic Patti said “I hate Easter”
and I must say it was something of a relief.
            I’d neglected to say I’d wanted
to write to my hot convert friend
            up in Toledo
 and say Happy Easter,
            that I missed the big bonfire at my former church
in which we threw
            our palms from the week before;
our little candles lit, blown out,
            and re-lit in the dark sanctuary. The Litany of
the Saints, so beautiful, to which I’d sobbed every year—
            including three years ago—not two hours
before, in our living room, exhausted—
            I’d been to a student event
with my husband before the service—
            and the Vigil had lasted three and a half
hours—when my husband told me he was
            leaving me.

                                    The week after that I went back
            to Mass, not knowing where else
to take my outsized pain—it was packed
            and a woman next to me gave me
her handkerchief
            as my sobbing was getting messy—
and I was convinced it was a message
            from my dead father who always gave
me a hankie and whose clean, folded handkerchiefs
            looked just like hers.

I could hardly get out of the church after
            Mass or through the ensuing
days in which my husband vaguely confessed
            about two other women and precisely
set about organizing his move which happened
            ten days later.

                                    How many times had I stood
in that parking lot before that fire
            with my husband and sometimes one
or the other, or both, of our daughters?
            And then gone
in to stand in the dark sanctuary waiting
            for our little white candles
in the paper cones to be lit hand to
            hand from the priest’s
Pascal candle. Staying standing
            for the long, long reading
of Genesis where
            God divided the light
from the darkness and Exodus, the
            Lord in the pillar of fire
and cloud. Oh how I wish I were there now.

            I heard we are having
yet another hard frost tonight
            —though it is April—
and again I congratulate myself
            for not planting anything yet.
I’m sure it is beautiful there at the garden
            under the dark, pink full moon.
                        Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, pray for us.
            Holy Angels of God . . . .
            The frost drops tonight

like stars.
            Perfect hairy red raspberries tumbling
out of the back door of my car
            and into the yard.


                        Belle hiding in the narrow brush jump
covered with red faux-brick paper. (Note to both horse and rider:
            the thing will not give.)
                        Her fluffy head
and fat tail coming out of the open top. Frustrated Cohen the
            black pit bull cross
            hanging around her licking her face.

Christy says Let me get a rope for the dog
            so I can rescue the cat
and Roxy can jump the brush jump.

I’m trotting around on Beach. I had to do energy work—
                        my guestimate of Reiki—
            on the horse before I went out there. Seriously.
I didn’t know that that was what I was doing.
            But he lowered his head and let his eyelashes drop
            when I stroked
            the bone behind his right ear.
Also looked at me dreamily
            when I kissed him square on the face.                         

                        Riders don’t always realize that horses
            need reassurance. The day before’s lesson, C. admitted,
“went south.” We were scraping mud
                        off Beach from either side.
 She thought 13-year-old Suzette could handle him,
            but instead he veered right
and broke into a canter down
            the rail—
            maybe she poked him with her heel—

            Suzettte ended up coming off INTO the wall of the indoor
breaking off a tooth—and fracturing her jaw.

                        Still she had the presence of mind,
Christy said, to ask for someone to look for
            her tooth. (Which I did not know
            until today was even
            a “thing.” Those who watch
                        hockey know about it?)
I’m sure the mom was not pleased, but
                        the liability waiver
—which refers to the “inherent risks of equine activities”
            and “death”—is in huge block letters on
            the tack room door.

And everybody signs a copy.

            My job today was to calm Beach down
enough to get him to go over the small jumps
                        without running out. (Or, God forbid,
into one of the hayfields stretching in
            every direction.)
Lily, another beginner, had helped him to realize
            that running out might be an attractive option.

                        The cat hiding in the brush jump, with the dog sniffing her face
            reminded me of how John, about age 12, used to hold
Douglas, age 10, down on the floor and I would slap him.

Then when Mother appeared, John and I would lie.

I am getting ready to confront my ex-husband
            in divorce counseling, to let him know
how much he hurt me. Is that not the most laughable
                        thing you ever heard? Like a person who
                                    pursued two
people while holding my hand
                        in “marriage therapy,” as he called it,
                        would suddenly
be capable of compassion?

Ha ha ha.

The cat’s head rotating around above the box reminded
            me of the woman’s head in Happy Days
the Beckett play my boyfriend lent me.
            Honestly, the grief over our uncertain future
                        is tormenting each of us
            in different ways. He can’t get across the Canadian/U.S. border
and I am a basket case about going up there.

My love bleeds and I go very blank. If I’m going to
            have excision surgery I need to prepare for it.

I need energy work. On myself. Courage to                
            get dipped in acid
I DO NOT visualize myself as Winnie in                                           
            Happy Days, the tiny circuit of toothbrush,
toothpaste, and comb—
buried to her waist in an earthen mound
            beneath a “trompe-l’oeil backcloth” of
                        “unbroken plain and sky.” A black bag and
parasol beside her. When will “Willie,”
lying asleep
somewhere behind her, speak?
                        Brush and comb
            the hair if it has not
been done or trim the nails

if they are in need of trimming. . . .
            This is going to be another happy day!


Trina T. has gone back out.
           It was all over WLFI.

Two OWIs in twenty-four hours.
           First she got hung up on 

a snow drift, drunk, then motored off
           from the officer

who tried to help her. Then she
           had an accident. “You should

have seen her mug shot,” Emily said,
           “and people were

saying things like ‘Lafayette’s finest’
           in the comment

section. Brandi and I had to
           defend her.”
                                 March 11th, apparently,

is the day my father will be released from
           the hospital. On his 93rd

birthday, his blood pressure was 69
           over 40.
                      “I always think

March 11th is the day we start
           to ride outside,” Christy says.

“We could probably ride in the outdoor
           today but we wouldn’t

be able to get there. All the snow is
           melting—the ground

is soaked.” March 11th is three days from
           today. No one knows if Trina has

been bailed out.
           Her husband had just gotten

out of prison which “could
           have been a factor.”
                                               That train accident

was by my rather obvious
           deduction a suicide. The train

was coming from the west
           and Rachel just rolled

her truck slowly onto the track.
           Three-column obituary. An engineer

who traveled the world, rode
           and showed a horse

named Orion, loved guinea pigs, pottery
           (which she made), sunflowers.

In other words, who lived eighty
           lives to my one. Christy

and Josie knew her. I heard about it
           at the barn when I was

having my lesson. Walking and trotting,
           always getting yelled at,

always waiting for the chance
           to jump (when I was young, it was “hunt”).

A hanger-on at the barn—with ten-year-old
           cohorts, college girl

stable helpers. “She, the witness, observed
           and heard the train

coming from the west
           and saw the pickup truck

slowly edge up onto the tracks,” said the
           Chief Deputy.
                                    When Doug heard

about Dad, via my voice mail, yesterday,
           it took eight hours for

him to get back to me. He was
           talking really slow. I wondered

how much he’d been
           drinking. I could tell

he didn’t feel up to calling Thea and sorting
           out the visiting rotation.
                                                  When they

told me Tammy died, I had
           to look up her obituary picture

to remember who she was.  Emily,
           recently relapsed and on the run

from CPS (having been caught driving drunk
           with her child), was the one

who found her. When you endanger
           children as much as she has, Child

Protection Services becomes CPS. Emily had tried
           to call Tammy to check on her

but she didn’t pick up. When
           Emily went over to check on her, she

found her naked on the
           bed, fresh—or not—from the

shower. Emily flashed back to her mother’s
           suicide by alcohol overdose,

replete with note, on her ninth birthday,
           and then tried to kill herself two and

a half weeks later. It was Tammy’s sister
           who called to check

and upon hearing Emily’s garbled voice
           called 911. She had been very, very

thorough in her overdose, though I can’t
           remember right now what

combination of drugs and alcohol she told
           me she used.
                                Arlene at the nursing home

was perfectly cheerful about
           my father last night, said she

only wished they’d caught it sooner
           so he could have avoided going

to the hospital.
                              He sounds
           like he is trying

to speak from a deep
           well. Thea said on the phone

that when she arrived she found
           him “unresponsive,” deploying

a medical default/buzz word. I knew
           it would be okay, though, because

the night nurse “Jackie” last night
           on the phone said she was right

outside his door, had just checked on him, and
           that he was “adorable.”                           
                                                             A man in the my

home meeting about
           whom I’ve been nursing

some kind of an obsession asked me
            for my phone number and I nearly

died. I kept thinking, Is this a date? I gave
           him my number and my last

name and he gave me his. I know what it was
           really for. I know we had

more important things to do
            in that room than

have a Valentine’s dance. I think about him,
           how raw and in pain he seemed a

month or two ago, how I was worried
           he’d go back out

(but he didn’t and that was all
           that mattered).
                                       When Andy refused

to watch Lola, and Mia was paranoid,
           I told her to ask

the reason. She ended up
           sobbing to him on the phone. Then

someone she knew from Lola’s school
           saw Mia in Target in the hour

before the meeting and offered to take her so Mia
           could have some peace.

Andy said it was just work that
           was bothering him. Mia’s friend

texted a photo of Lola at Tractor Supply—
           or was it Rural King?

I didn’t ask the man why he wanted
           my number. I did not want

to end up sobbing.
           it’s Daylight Savings

Time, drag yourself up out of that
           hole you’re in. Dad is not dead.

Let’s work on his obituary while there’s
           still time. I’ll tell you

when it’s otherwise. Slim, in your
           gold shoes, carry on,

keep deploying your charm. Mia,
           tell the truth to Andy. Emily, one day

at a time, keep coming back. I’ll call you,
           Doug, and tell you when to

enter the hole for good. Meanwhile, pick up
           your phone once every

thousand years. Let me check on you.


Dana Roeser’s fourth book, All Transparent Things Need Thundershirts, won the Wilder Prize at Two Sylvias Press and was published in September 2019. Her previous books won the Juniper Prize and the Samuel French Morse Prize (twice). She was a recipient of the GLCA New Writers Award, an NEA Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and several other awards and residencies. Recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Poem-a-Day, The Glacier, North American Review, DIAGRAM, Pleiades, Guesthouse, Barrow Street, Laurel Review, and others. For more information, please see www.danaroeser.com.

The Writing Disorder is a quarterly literary journal. We publish exceptional new works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. We also feature interviews with writers and artists, as well as reviews.



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