I live, write, and teach in Appleton, Wisconsin—about 35 miles south of the "frozen tundra." I am fascinated by good paper, poetry and the way ink moves forward on the blank page and words trail behind like a snake shedding its skin. Winner of the 2003 Main Street Rag Chapbook contest, I am the author of the collection A Theory of Lipstick (Main Street Rag: 2013) and seven chapbooks of poetry. Widely published (poetry, reviews and interviews), I was awarded a Pushcart Prize in 2011. www.karlahuston.com
Settling for Apathetic
The girls have mastered the pitiful look,
pouting on cue with lips the perfect
shade of cherry. The boys in the hall rub
hands over hair stubble and pull
at their trousers, never getting
them as high as they should be. Today
the kid in the back row forgot to do
his assignment again and thinks I’ll
forgive him. The principal has remembered
my name for the second time this week. Today
the band tunes up in the background,
and cafeteria ladies grunt and mumble.
Everywhere ventilators hiss and clank,
bubblers gurgle slowly, water swimming
around phlegm and spent gum.
The spell check wants to change phlegm
to philosophy and while I consider this,
a kid in first seat sleeps and I settle for apathetic.
Two mallards land atop a roof
on a blustery, brisk April day,
a day perfect for ducks on the lam,
maybe, on their way home
after their southern sojourn.
I don’t know what they’re looking for,
some 20 feet up, but the female
sidesteps the shingles and fluffs;
the male’s head rocks and bobbles,
shines like oily emeralds. Surely
there are puddles to wade into,
ponds to paddle, yet here they are.
They should be warned.
There are bird dogs lurking,
including mine, who’d love to sidle up
and grab a sniff or two, grab a taste
of feathers and bone. There is a hawk
who owns these trees, wires
and rooftops. He usually
gets what he wants.
The cool basement lured us like a breeze,
a chilly refuge where Loretta and I played
with teenage dolls, made houses of cardboard,
and cut berry-box into tables and chairs.
We named our boyfriends
David and Rick, imagined
they looked like Roy Rogers
and rode smart horses that reared
up on two legs, took us for wild rides.
We were the wax-lipped ladies,
darlings of the damp, linoleum-rose
angels, while outside cicadas hummed
summer-summer and mayflies brought
luck to the pickup games.
Inside we sang shaboom, shaboom
and danced in paper sandals, our realm
compromised only when my brother
and his stupid friends tried to chase us--
or by my mother, who brought us Popsicles,
frosted and sweating, split in perfect twos.
How can I show this child the way
to write about war? She’s never seen
more than what’s been shown on tv:
the blown footage, the bodiless flags,
iridescent missiles arcing in some foreign
night, while bullets whistle
across a thirty-six inch screen.
She’s never tasted sand, acrid with smoke,
touched mud studded with bones,
or seen blood blacken as it dries.
She’s never known the smell of a corpse
or how it fills her mouth with vomit.
Still she understands the big picture,
the waste and suffering, burnt
offerings to political gods.
To her, death is a tempting mystery,
so how can I tell her what loss means?
She must imagine war as more
than just busted buildings on yellowed paper,
more than six o’clock sound bites.
She must hunt for the wounded,
seek the man with no eyes, the woman
with a hole in her heart,
the boy too dumbed to speak.
All day they arrive again
and again bees to bloom
in this quiet heat I throw
pebbles of silver
into cupped hands where
they come in swarms
to drink what I give them
today the bitter singing
the persistent wings
the memorial ache
wires hovering with
song, the elegant song.
©2016 Karla Huston