Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Stray

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I.

I raised the cat's tail boldly. Amazed
I could read neither gender nor history—
each shape its own cavernous mystery—
I returned to my girls who had, meanwhile,

cut snowflakes from plain paper.
A pile of rectangles—discarded a while
back to achieve snowflake symmetry—
could be icicles, I suggested.

Some perky authority on animal genitalia
assured me, via YouTube, that an expert alone
can distinguish the edited ole
from his lumpy-bummed lena.

His hole is more circular—hers almost ovoid—
see? Thank God I did not see. I did, however, see
the now-clearly-phallic
paper icicles my daughters were taping

to my kitchen windows

II.

which brought to mind
the news today that four marines pissed
on stiff Taliban soldiers. The art of self-control,
according to one apologetic general,
is in the federal curriculum. The federal curriculum?
Despite my Christendom, I can see the dead men
must have been devoted to their own image
of virtue—or scared of someone—or scared of losing
something. Why else fight?
The urinators clearly lost sight
of their humanity. Women, I've got
to say, would not behave this way.
When peeing, we tend to be
(mysteriously) ashamed of our sweet
or rebellious selves. Our aggression
is simply less corporeal. Unless
it's sexual. At the sight
of a lifeless human body—
I freeze.

Take that nasty video from me. Please.

Lord, please. I can see nothing
farther from divinity
than the wars of men
where every god is made
to serve the grave
agenda.

III.

And yet, how would I know what else these men
have seen? I’ve seen a week's worth of rain make
southerners savor, as they say, a sour mood. What to me
are Willy Pete or Whiskey? How do faulty
gas masks warp the living face? What noise
do people lacking water make? And what
department does airborne radioactive dust
most offend? The eyes? The throat? The lung? And what
do living bodies look like in a fire?
Loaves of bread settling? Do they curl in like a fetus?
Straighten like a vein? Do they turn
orange or pink or blue? I don’t know but
these boys do.
We trained them to take nothing
less than life.
With what pen can they sketch a line
between the body's dispensable life
and the body?
How have I
become more thunderstruck
at word of men
desecrating dead men
than at the word of men killing
living men?

IV.

My godson, Steve, had a sweetness
that made us swoon. You should have seen
the way he used to take his mother's face
like a globe in both baby hands and sing
Yoooou are my wooorld.
In Iraq, he had to find
a bleak and primal cave in his mind
in which to wound—beyond usefulness—
his own kindness. Now no drug can calm
his seizures. He can't work. He's quiet.
Inside the man they mailed home, our boy's alone
and very near a riled fire.

I blink away seething bones in these
fake snowflakes. The ugly
truth: I haven't let my daughters see
much of this world—because it so sickens me.
I know my own outrage to be as corpulent as it is
impotent.

V.

No. Mama will no
longer examine the cat's jo jo.
We'll keep the cat and call it
Dyre or Delling or Britt.
It matters not one whit what was
fashioned then fixed.
One daughter's gone
to see my neighbor’s older son.
Can the boy play?
From here, I only get
how erect
the American girl can stand.


Heidi Lynn Nilsson‘s poetry has appeared in Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, American Poets, and New Voices from the Academy of American Poets. She lives in Athens, GA with her husband and three daughters.


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