Good Housekeeping reports the most popular novel the year of my birth,
Miracle of the Bells, told a story about a second-rate actress
who died playing Joan of Arc for film. The last President sang
Amazing Grace for the gun-down slaughter of people at a prayer meeting.
Thousand-year rains submerged Baton Rouge and the state’s brown pelican
icon tears her breast to feed three nestlings who never expected floods like this.
Joan rode into the One Hundred Years War and burned at the stake.
When our town’s arts commission re-gilded her statue in the roundabout,
no reporter counted up how many years we have been at war, just as
no one asks for whom the bombed bells broke.
After Charlie Hedbo
He spoke French to his Haitian wife
but did not draw cartoons.
He practiced lawyer in New York,
graduated from Yale Law with Hilary.
He wanted to do his art thing
so he made a movie
called Paraquat Jungle
between writing briefs and juggling
Manhattan law firm late night hours.
We had to go to a drive-in movie to see
his low-budget film —sixties hippies
growing pot who federal agents sprayed
with paraquat from a helicopter. The herbicide
turned the farmers into cannibals. Next –
drawn-out scenes of deranged men chasing
around in California backwoods slashing axes.
I was big pregnant.
I stared at the dirty carpet of our Honda,
fearing watching this would hurt my baby.
The popcorn ran out before the movie ended.
My husband said, “That’s our Charlie” who died in the World Trade Center.
Whose Am I?
Today when the winter creek overwhelms its banks,
sloughing off mud and rolling rock,
I cannot be a rippled pond,
ring inside ring. Too turbulent.
Today I can only be vestigial stuck mud
in the Union soldier letters in my hat box. Mired
in DNA. Heritage. The way I kick my legs
is that the revolutionary Jabez’ fifer jig?
My five rocking chairs –
am I my great-grandmother staying home
from the Civil War?
Annie Dunn read all those letters,
dreaded what she didn’t know.
My women saved the letters.
I barely know my father’s side, Germans on the boat,
diamonds in their hems, mine cut in South Africa.
I wear one now. I write below the Rulach portrait,
those who left to avoid the Prussian draft.
Whose am I? Who accounts to who?
My mother’s side – the American revolutionaries,
the Webbs of Braintree, Mass.
Then the Union’s William Lewis
and the Dunns. Between first dust and end dust,
how long they walked in mud.
Turning Off War on TV
I bought a three-story dollhouse.
Four bedrooms, congregating kitchen,
front porch hiding a plastic raccoon.
I stuffed in mother-of-pearl inlaid armchairs
and antique cigarette-pack Persian carpets.
Make room for a Noah’s ark
of tea box and garage sale miniatures
in case a drone bombs the zoo.
A dozen porcelain hounds swarm back
from linty drawers, some missing legs
from the last war game.
Ecuadorian finger puppets sit
with wire-boned blacks, whites and Asians.
Marilyn Monroe slinks under mirrors.
Jesus’ picture adorns the refrigerator;
Buddha’s on the porch.
Tibetan prayer flags circle the wood yard.
A Dios de los Muertos waitress
waits for refugees.
I made replica copper torsos,
cuneiform tablets, a mask of Lady Warka
and water dragon puppets
and hide them from the looters.
The ghost traps of sticks and wool
nest up the wanderers. Dream catchers
sluice good dreams, snag bad ones.
I shrink demand letters to the department of justice
about imprisoned fathers and raped mothers
to 3-point type and slide them
under door sills and into gabled windows.
I’m don’t know what insiders make of breaking news.
I glued Cookie Monster to their TV screen.
Flexible yarn people pray on ambiguous knees,
rally round the fireplace and dive
into bed, six to a cot, dead
with dread of suicide bombers.
All – dogs, spiders, armadillos, frogs,
puppets, happy-meal people and the ducks –
do many things well – embrace often,
make love in the bath,
treat ghosts as nicely as the living,
and break bread (a rubber pizza eraser)
together. No grandiose.
I’m an Oregon poet with a hat box full of letters written by my ancestors from battlefields in the Civil War to my great-grandmother Annie Dunn. War and its casualties are one of my themes. In 2018 Antrim House press is releasing How I Learned to Be White which includes poems about my ancestry and privilege.