Have Mercy

On most of us in these poems, both the living and the dead.
Maybe it’s true that we are always—in writing and in memory—
lightly fictionalized versions of the people we were then.

On me, too, if I have smoothed some rough edges or roughed
some that should stay smooth. I finally got that rock tumbler
from the Sears Wish Book, but I don’t know how to use it.

But no mercy for Howard Durst, still. He deserves judgment,
not having received it in life; we girls could not speak it yet,
or we lived in a world that was not designed to hear.

Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was “Have _____.”


Something Precious, Like Your Hill

I’m grateful for Olentangy River Road,
that one house—contemporary in 1989,
or whenever it is they widened the road
alongside 315—with its forlorn sign:

Goodbye, sledding hill.

I’m grateful because it showed me that
even if we hadn’t moved so much,
we still could have been fucked with;
you can stay in one house and still lose

something precious, like your hill,
scraped off by the city, so that
if you ever sledded again in your yard,
you’d hit some passing Camry or another.

Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was to write a gratitude poem.


A Story That Contains My Mother

My mother, talking to some fancy lady
on the phone in our yellow-and-blue kitchen,
the one in Dayton, one morning before school,
while I was watching the Today Show
and half listening in, to the talk about PTA
or room mothers, or whatever it was.
At the same time, she was trying to make
orange juice, from a can, but it was not quite
thawed, and I watched as the balky cylinder
refused to go into the narrow hole at the top
of the Tupperware pitcher, and instead
oozed down the sides as my mother tried
to scoop it back up, and in, all while
cradling the phone between shoulder and ear,
maintaining the conversation and also
catching my eye, letting me know that she
knew that I saw, and knew it was funny.
A story that contains my mother. How can I
tell you why it means love, if you
don’t already know?

Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was a love poem or anti-love poem.


Meals While Moving

Kentucky Fried Chicken on paper plates in Nashville,
and am I right that we sat on the floor, using boxes
as the table because the table was already on the truck?
A disturbance, the knowledge that I would never
see this place again. I was only four, but I felt it—
never think that a young child doesn’t. We do.

Some Ponderosa or Bonanza somewhere,
some other move (Minnesota to Ohio, maybe).
A nearby woman becoming family lore—urging,
extolling the virtues of lime Jell-O to her husband:
It’s light. Refreshing. Won’t fill you up. Try some!
You had to be there, perhaps. Something about it
struck my mother funny, so I laughed, too—
with her, and at her impression—for years.

So many motel room breakfasts.
Those little boxes of cereal that became bowls.
So many states that we drove through,
I couldn’t name them if I tried, don’t know
all the places I’ve been while we were
going someplace else.

Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was to write a meal poem.


I Told My Mom, and I’m Telling You, Too

“I hope if anything like that ever happened to you, you’d tell me right away.”
“Do you remember Howard Durst?”

I can name names now, because he’s dead.
Here’s another: Concord United Methodist Church in Englewood, Ohio.
Rod King, also dead, the minister who covered it up to save his job
(I’ll say it now, I’ll say it) because all the popular and powerful church ladies
rallied around Mary June Durst, director of the Wesley Choir for children
in 4th grade through 6th grade (and there I was, joining it in 5th grade
so I could make new friends). Mary June knew, kept it quiet, but I suppose
I can imagine her horror, her shame. Maybe I’m angrier at the bitch crew
of women’s circle ladies, including my mother’s best friend
(ask me, and I’ll name her, too—I’m holding back, but ask me),
who had heard the gossip for years, about other girls and Howard Durst,
but chose not to tell my mother, lording it over her, enjoying the secret,
when I could have been saved. Spared from what? A dirty kiss
in the church kitchen, my mother just a few feet away, or the other,
the other thing was an exploring hand up my thigh, skirting the
edge of (unspeakable, gross) as the choir bus drove us all to
Michigan or Kentucky, that part I can’t remember, but the bus was
full of people and I didn’t say anything because what if I was wrong,
what if I was right?

Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was “Dialogue.” Like other poems with long lines, this one does not present super well here on WordPress. In all but the last two lines, if there’s a very short line, assume that it’s actually supposed to be the end of the preceding line.


Instructions for When You’re Alone in the House

Slide open the small tin of bubblegum lip balm.
Slide it shut, along its metal track. So good to hold,
a token that fits in your palm like a key in a lock.
Drink tiny shot glasses of toothpaste water
out of the cap of the toothpaste. Now you know
what drinking is, maybe, but the warning on the back
of the toothpaste says not to swallow it. Will you die?
The little roll-on of perfume, Dirty Kids brand, smells like
dandelions in the sun. What are you getting ready for?
It doesn’t matter. And then you read somewhere
about how sex actually works, not just The man puts
his penis inside the woman’s vagina, but how this occurs,
that it has to be hard, and big. How big? You practice
with a plastic bottle of Avon Sweet Honesty deodorant.
It hurts. You wonder how anyone gets ready
for anything like this.

Today’s Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge prompt was to write an instruction poem.